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Mike Knox

January 2020 campaign finance reports: City of Houston

We’re done with the 2019 Houston election cycle, but there are still things we can learn from the January 2020 campaign finance reports that city of Houston candidates and officeholders have to file. Other finance report posts: My two-part look at the State House was here and here, Harris County offices were here, statewide races were here, and SBOE/State Senate races were here.


Candidate     Raised      Spent     Loan     On Hand
====================================================
Turner       359,567    780,735        0     293,503
Peck           1,075     17,435    5,000          72
Davis          4,000     14,164        0     139,068
Kamin         24,158     93,810        0      18,717
E-Shabazz     14,394     18,965        0       2,145
Martin        14,600     48,754        0     148,989
Thomas        20,263     21,642        0      11,675
Travis         9,850     70,904   21,000      51,484
Cisneros      15,050     44,687        0      24,169
Gallegos      16,850     46,055        0      76,776
Pollard        4,525     25,007   40,000       1,882
C-Tatum       16,250      8,520        0      71,747
Knox           6,900     29,075        0       4,302
Robinson      11,625     82,515        0      40,735
Kubosh        14,770     31,570  276,000      94,540
Plummer       71,168     83,491   21,900      11,068
Alcorn        21,535     76,313        0      16,374
Brown          1,650    102,340   75,000      14,128

Bailey             0      2,400    2,600          70
Jackson       43,845     18,338        0      28,343

Buzbee         1,903    460,888        0      63,531
King          29,925    161,047  420,000      11,567
Parker             0     38,750        0      26,184
Laster             0     12,579        0     162,209
Salhotra      24,010     75,837        0       9,060
Sanchez       40,056     92,678        0      10,636
Edwards          499    109,812        0      89,987

HouStrongPAC       0     10,000        0      51,717

Nominally, this period covers from the 8 day report before the November election (which would be October 27) to the end of the year, but for most of these folks it actually covers the 8 day runoff report to the end of the year, so basically just the month of December. In either case, this is the time when candidates don’t raise much but do spend down their accounts, as part of their GOTV efforts. For those who can run for re-election in 2023, they will have plenty of time to build their treasuries back up.

Mayor Turner will not be running for re-election again, but it’s not hard to imagine some uses for his existing (and future) campaign cash, such as the HERO 2.0 effort or the next round of city bonds. He can also use it to support other candidates – I’m sure he’ll contribute to legislative candidates, if nothing else – or PACs. That’s what former Mayor Parker has done with what remains of her campaign account. Nearly all of the $38,750 she spent this cycle went to the LGBTQ Victory fund, plus a couple of smaller contributionss to Sri Kulkarni, Eliz Markowitz, and one or two other campaigns. Tony Buzbee has restaurant bills to pay, and those endless emails Bill King spams out have to cost something.

Others who have campaign accounts of interest: As we know, Jerry Davis has transferred his city account to his State Rep campaign account. I’ve been assuming Mike Laster is going to run for something for years now. The change to four-year Council terms may have frozen him out of the 2018 election, when he might have run for County Clerk. I could see him challenging a Democratic incumbent in 2022 for one of the countywide offices, maybe County Clerk, maybe County Judge, who knows. It’s always a little uncomfortable to talk about primary challenges, but that’s what happens when there are no more Republicans to knock out.

Other hypothetical political futures: Dave Martin could make a run for HD129 in 2022 or 2024, or he could try to win (or win back) Commissioners Court Precinct 3 in 2024. If Sen. Carol Alvarado takes my advice and runs for Mayor in 2023, then maybe State Rep. Christina Morales will run to succeed her in SD06. If that happens, Robert Gallegos would be in a strong position to succeed Morales in HD145. Michael Kubosh wasn’t on my list of potential Mayoral candidates in 2023, but maybe that was a failure of imagination on my part. As for Orlando Sanchez, well, we know he’s going to run for something again, right?

You may be wondering, as I was, what’s in Amanda Edwards’ finance report. Her activity is from July 1, since she wasn’t in a city race and thus had no 30-day or 8-day report to file. Her single biggest expenditure was $27K to Houston Civic Events for an event expense, and there were multiple expenditures categorized as “Loan Repayment/Reimbusement” to various people. Perhaps she has transferred the balance of her account to her Senate campaign by this time, I didn’t check.

Most of the unsuccessful candidates’ reports were not interesting to me, but I did want to include Raj Salhotra here because I feel reasonably confident that he’ll be on another ballot in the short-term future. The HISD and HCC Boards of Trustees are both places I could see him turn to.

Last but not least, the Keep Houston Strong PAC, whose treasurer is former Mayor Bill White, gave $10K to Move to the Future PAC. That’s all I know about that.

Council results

With one race still up in the air as I draft this:

With early voting tallies and most of Saturday’s Election Day results posted, Houston’s three incumbent at-large council members facing runoffs had won, while District H incumbent Karla Cisneros held the slimmest of leads over challenger Isabel Longoria. Four other incumbents already have reclaimed their seats, having won outright on Nov. 5: Dave Martin (District E), Greg Travis (District G), Robert Gallegos (District I) and Martha Castex-Tatum (District K).

At least half of the 16-member council will be new — five current members are term-limited and three vacated their seats: Dwight Boykins (District D) made a failed bid for mayor, Amanda Edwards (At-Large 4) is seeking the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate, and Steve Le (District F) decided not to seek re-election.

One council race will not be decided Saturday: The third-place finisher in District B has filed lawsuits contesting the election and challenging the second-place finisher’s eligibility, citing her 2007 felony theft conviction and a state law that appears to bar candidates with such convictions from running for office. No election date has been set.

The simplest way to summarize what happened is this tweet:

With 367 of 385 voting centers reporting, Karla Cisneros had a 25-vote lead over Isabel Longoria. It had been a 14-vote lead with 323 centers reporting. Longoria had chipped away at Cisneros’ lead all evening. I have to think this one is going to get recounted, so whatever the final numbers are, expect this to remain an unsettled question for a little longer.

The At Large results could have been better, but they were sufficiently close in #4 and #5 that they also could have been a lot worse. When Mayor Turner puts forward a new version of HERO, he should have ten of sixteen Council votes in his favor. We’ll see how that goes. In the meantime, congratulations to all the winners.

8 Day runoff 2019 campaign finance reports

We start with a Chron story.

Mayor Sylvester Turner raked in more than $1.7 million from late October through early December and spent roughly the same amount, leaving him with almost $600,000 for the final days of the runoff, according to a campaign finance report filed Friday.

The total marked a fundraising surge for Turner, who was aided by newly reset donor contribution limits for the runoff, though he still was outspent by Tony Buzbee, a millionaire trial lawyer and the mayor’s opponent in the Dec. 14 contest.

Buzbee, who is self-financing his campaign and refusing all campaign contributions, put $2.3 million of his own money into the campaign last month and spent almost $3.1 million between Oct. 27 and Wednesday, leaving him with about $524,000.

With a week to go in the election, Buzbee and Turner have now combined to spend about $19 million in what has become easily the most expensive Houston mayoral race yet. Buzbee has spent $11.8 million of the $12.3 million he has put into his campaign account, while Turner has spent $7.2 million since the middle of 2018.

As an earlier story notes, self-funding has only occasionally been a winning strategy in Houston. I don’t expect it to be any different this time, but I do note that Buzbee’s basic strategy has changed. I still haven’t seen a Buzbee TV ad since November, but we’ve gotten a couple of mailers (someone needs to clean up his database if he’s mailing to me), I’ve seen a bunch of web ads, and he’s been littering the streets with signs. Gotta spend that money on something.

Here’s a summary of the 8 day reports for the runoff:


Race   Candidate     Raised      Spent     Loan     On Hand
===========================================================
Mayor  Turner     1,741,906  1,722,625        0     597,624
Mayor  Buzbee     2,300,000  3,076,360        0     524,420

A      Peck          38,075     39,252    5,000      15,373
A      Zoes           6,600      7,562    4,000       3,723

B      Jackson
B      Bailey           355        284      200          70

C      Kamin        180,528    137,396        0     173,370
C      Kennedy       35,160     18,343        0      25,995

D      Shabazz       31,490     28,575        0       5,009
D      Jordan        28,190     11,688        0      53,724

F      Thomas        
F      Huynh         

H      Cisneros      54,700     75,012        0      41,632
H      Longoria      36,945     32,906        0      20,946

J      Rodriguez
J      Pollard       38,016     47,147   40,000      22,864

AL1    Knox          69,710     49,857        0      16,073
AL1    Salhotra     128,672    121,736        0      64,150

AL2    Robinson     111,280    199,791        0     189,649
AL2    Davis         27,725     10,367        0      19,816

AL3    Kubosh        72,215     69,164  276,000     113,500
AL3    Carmouche     17,570     11,757        0       5,812

AL4    Plummer       41,915     44,501   21,900      12,443
AL4    Dolcefino     19,215     17,482        0       6,478

AL5    Alcorn       195,105    154,757        0      49,463
AL5    Dick           1,100     65,205   75,000       2,545

I think there must be some reports that have not been uploaded – the Chron story mentions Sandra Rodriguez’s numbers, but there was no report visible on Saturday. It and the others may be there on Monday. In the Council races, what we see here is a continuation of what we had seen before. Big fundraisers raised big money, others didn’t. Eric Dick did his spend-his-own-money-and-file-weird-reports thing. Most of the spending has not been particularly visible to me – I’ve gotten a mailer from Robinson and Turner, and that’s about it.

How much any of this moves the needle remains to be seen. As we know from the Keir Murray reports, the runoff electorate is very similar in nature to the November electorate. That’s obviously better for some candidates than for others. If you think of fundraising in runoffs as being like the betting markets to some extent, then we’re probably headed towards the expected results. We’ll see if there are any surprises in store.

Chron overview of the At Large #1 runoff

“Sharp contrasts” is a good description of this race. “Clear choice” also works.

Raj Salhotra

A runoff between a conservative incumbent and liberal challenger for one of Houston’s citywide council seats presents arguably the sharpest contrast of any race on Houston’s December ballot.

Councilman Mike Knox, an Air Force veteran and former police officer, is seeking his second four-year term but faces stiff competition from Raj Salhotra, a 29-year-old attorney and former high school math teacher making his first run for elected office.

Last month, Knox secured 36.5 percent of the vote in the five-person race, far ahead of Salhotra’s 22 percent but not enough to win the race outright.

In his bid to retain the At-Large, Position 1 seat, Knox is pitching himself as a persistent check on Mayor Sylvester Turner and a leading advocate of reining in city spending. He also has framed Salhotra as a “Beto socialist” and alleged his challenger would distract city council by pushing partisan issues.

“This is a race where we have a young person who’s aspiring to become a career politician, who believes that political agendas are the most important thing for Houstonians,” said Knox, 61. “And I disagree with that.”

Salhotra, meanwhile, is casting Knox as a tea party Republican, contending that the incumbent has served as an antagonist on council and taken positions that threaten to hinder progress on key issues. He rattles off Knox’s dissenting votes by memory: opposing Turner’s pension overhaul, voting against stricter floodplain regulations, voting not to join a lawsuit opposing Texas’ so-called sanctuary cities law, Senate Bill 4.

“This is a nonpartisan race, but I do think there are real philosophical differences between Councilmember Knox and myself, and we’re making that clear to voters through knocking on doors, phone banking, texting, mail, Facebook ads,” Salhotra said Sunday while block walking through a high-turnout precinct in the Heights. “The thinking goes, if we can explain his record to voters and my vision and core values, we feel confident they will make the choice to support me.”

My interview with Raj Salhotra is here, and my analysis of the precinct data from Round One is here. Salhotra has had the fundraising advantage, and he will need to use it to make sure people know who he is and what he stands for. As we’ve discussed before, all of the At Large runoffs are Republican versus Democrat, though some of the candidates in those races lean into that more than others. Mike Knox is all in on it, and that by itself would be enough to want to vote him out, even before you look at his record. Raj has a lot of votes to make up, but he will have a favorable environment in December. The rest is up to him.

Precinct analysis: 2019 At Large #2

Welcome to At Large #2, the second of three At Large races in which an incumbent is in the runoff.


Dist  DavidR   Davis   Griff  DeToto   Honey
============================================
A      4,570   3,995   1,643   3,575     809
B      5,779   5,416     958   1,921     391
C     16,691   6,446   3,568   7,649   1,551
D      8,588   7,122   1,634   3,300     621
E      7,221   7,447   2,335   4,077   1,700
F      2,947   2,422     853   2,061     503
G      9,561   9,072   3,057   4,983   1,399
H      4,558   2,048   1,018   4,657     595
I      3,207   1,900     822   3,892     425
J      2,164   1,600     622   1,462     352
K      7,089   4,668   1,381   2,971     617
					
A     31.32%  27.38%  11.26%  24.50%   5.54%
B     39.95%  37.44%   6.62%  13.28%   2.70%
C     46.49%  17.95%   9.94%  21.30%   4.32%
D     40.39%  33.49%   7.68%  15.52%   2.92%
E     31.70%  32.69%  10.25%  17.90%   7.46%
F     33.54%  27.57%   9.71%  23.46%   5.73%
G     34.06%  32.32%  10.89%  17.75%   4.98%
H     35.40%  15.91%   7.91%  36.17%   4.62%
I     31.30%  18.54%   8.02%  37.99%   4.15%
J     34.90%  25.81%  10.03%  23.58%   5.68%
K     42.38%  27.91%   8.26%  17.76%   3.69%

Here’s the 2015 precinct analysis for comparison. Incumbent David Robinson had about a 20K vote and ten percentage point lead over Willie Davis in both years, though his own percentage of the vote increased from 32 to 38. Robinson arguably had a tougher field in 2015, with Eric Dick and Andrew Burks also on the ballot. Dick did better in the Republican districts than Davis did, and Burks did better in Districts B and D, but Davis was still able to come in second. But as in 2015, Robinson was better than Davis nearly everywhere – Davis nipped him only in District E this year – and as such it’s hard to see Davis’ path to victory. Robinson has a big cash advantage, and he’s the Democrat in this race. Mike Knox may lose. David Robinson is highly unlikely to lose.

By the way, despite his lukewarm showing in November of 2015, Robinson scored a solid nine-point win in the runoff. It might be a more interesting race if there were no corresponding Mayoral race, but given that there is I expect Robinson to cruise.

Is this the end of Griff as a factor in these multi-candidate races? He failed to crack ten percent, which is weaker than I’d have expected. He got almost 13 percent in 2015, and actually finished third in the At Large #1 pileup. We were four thousand votes away from a Mike Knox-Griff Griffin runoff. I get a little dizzy every time I think about that.

More to come. Let me know what you think.

Precinct analysis: 2019 At Large #1

I’m going to take a look at the five At Large Council races as well, since all of them have interesting things to say about what happened. First up is At Large #1, where incumbent Mike Knox will face first time candidate Raj Salhotra in December.


Dist    Knox Provost     Raj     YNF    Bmon
============================================
A      7,587   1,465   2,482   2,730   1,108
B      1,952   5,515   1,856   3,485   2,473
C     14,652   2,129  15,043   4,713   1,547
D      3,148   7,214   3,719   4,185   4,266
E     13,721   1,711   3,257   3,140   1,942
F      3,405   1,116   1,522   2,119   1,004
G     18,030   1,836   5,034   2,845   1,585
H      2,869   1,352   3,578   5,080     847
I      1,982   1,323   2,329   4,381     781
J      2,300     685   1,487   1,393     631
K      4,237   3,285   4,396   2,985   2,798
					
A     49.36%   9.53%  16.15%  17.76%   7.21%
B     12.77%  36.09%  12.15%  22.81%  16.18%
C     38.47%   5.59%  39.50%  12.38%   4.06%
D     13.97%  32.02%  16.51%  18.57%  18.93%
E     57.72%   7.20%  13.70%  13.21%   8.17%
F     37.15%  12.18%  16.60%  23.12%  10.95%
G     61.47%   6.26%  17.16%   9.70%   5.40%
H     20.90%   9.85%  26.07%  37.01%   6.17%
I     18.36%  12.25%  21.57%  40.58%   7.23%
J     35.41%  10.54%  22.89%  21.44%   9.71%
K     23.94%  18.56%  24.83%  16.86%  15.81%

A couple of big-picture items before we get into the district numbers. Knox got 36.51% of the Harris County vote in 2019. He was the only Republican candidate in the race this year. He got 24.75% in 2015, but Griff Griffin was also in that race, and the two of them combined for 37.65% of the vote. The two Republican Mayoral candidates (Buzbee and King) combined for 42.79% of the vote this year. This is all very fuzzy and I wouldn’t put too much stock in it, I’m just trying to get a (very) rough idea of the overall Republican vote in the city.

At Large races are notorious for having a high undervote rate, largely because the candidates are usually not well known to most voters. In this case, At Large #1 had the lowest undervote rate of any of the At Large races, at 17.65%. The others ranged from 21.05% to 23.00%. By contrast, the Mayor’s race had an undervote rate of 1.59%. One possible reason for this is that four of the five At Large #1 contestants had been in at least one race before, and the fifth raised enough money to do some mailers.

Mike Knox showed strength where you’d expect him to, in Districts A, E, and G, and he did pretty well in C, F, and J. If he can repeat that kind of performance in the runoff, he can win. Like Tony Buzbee, he would have preferred for there to be runoffs in E and G as well, but unlike Buzbee he doesn’t have a ton of money to throw around to generate turnout for himself. The risk for him is that Buzbee will go down with a whimper and drag him and the other Republican runoff candidates as well.

Raj Salhotra carried Districts C and K, both by small amounts. He did pretty well for a first time candidate, but he has his work cut out for him. He has about a 29K deficit to overcome, and he has to win a lot of votes in districts like B and D despite having Georgia Provost and Larry Blackmon endorse Knox in the runoff. Honestly, I’d probably put whatever money he has into mailers and robocalls tying Knox to Buzbee and Trump, and hope for the best. Getting those Democrats who have been endorsing Mayor Turner to speak up on his behalf would help, too.

I admit, I expected Georgia Provost to be Salhotra’s main competition for the second runoff slot. She’s run before, she made the runoff in 2015, and she starts with a base of support. But she doesn’t raise money, and while she obviously does well in the African-American districts, she doesn’t do much more than just split that vote with the other African-American candidate on the ballot. In fact, she did better in 2015 with Chris Oliver also in the race than she did this year with Larry Blackmon, who is just a perennial candidate. You could muster up an argument that Blackmon cost her a shot at the runoff, as her total plus his would have outscored Salhotra, but the presence of Oliver in 2015 didn’t hold her back.

I was a little surprised to see Yolanda Navarro Flores do as well as she did. She was last on a ballot in 2013, and had not won races other than for HCC Trustee. She entered late and raised no money, but as you can see she did very well in H and I, she outpaced Provost everywhere except B, D, and K, and outpaced Salhotra everywhere except C, E, G, and K. An earlier entry and some actual fundraising, and she could still be in this race.

I’ll be looking at the rest of the races over the next few days. Let me know what you think.

Initial thoughts on Election 2019

All bullet points, all the time…

– Here’s my opening statement on the election returns debacle. We have more information about this now, but we still need more before we can go anywhere else with it.

– All incumbents want to win without runoffs, but for an incumbent that was forced into a runoff, Mayor Turner did pretty darned well. Including Fort Bend, he got about 12K more votes than Buzbee and King combined, and missed by about 2K outscoring Buzbee plus King plus Boykins. Suffice to say, he’s in a strong position for the runoffs.

– We are going to have a cubic buttload of runoffs. In addition to the Mayor, there are seven district Council runoffs, all five At Large Council races, two HISD races, two HCC races, and HD148. We might have had pretty decent overall turnout without the Mayor’s race included, but with it at the top it will be a lot like a November election. I’ll put the initial over/under at about 175K, which is roughly the 2009 Mayoral election runoff total.

– Among those Council runoffs are districts B and D, which along with HISD II and IV and HCC 2 will favor Turner. There are no runoffs in E or G, which would have favored Buzbee, and the runoff in A is almost certain to be a serene, low-money affair. Districts C and J went for King in the 2015 runoffs, but the runoffs in those districts involve only Democratic candidates. Turner has a lot more wind at his back than Buzbee does.

– For a more visual representation of the above, see this Mike Morris tweet. Nearly all of those Buzbee areas are in districts A, E, and G.

– In a sense, the main event in November is the At Large runoffs, all five of which feature a Republican and a Democrat. A Council that includes Mike Knox, Willie Davis, Michael Kubosh, Anthony Dolcefino, and Eric Dick is a Council that (including the members in A, E, and G) is fully half Republican, and could thus throw a lot of sand into the gears of the second Turner administration (or really grease the wheels of a Buzbee administration, if you want to extend the metaphor). Yes, I know, Council doesn’t really work like that, but the difference between that Council and one that includes three or more of Raj Salhotra, David Robinson, Janaeya Carmouche, Letitia Plummer, and Sallie Alcorn, is likely to be quite large. You want to have an effect on the direction Houston takes over the next four years, there you have it.

– Council could have been even more Republican, but at the district level it looks to remain at least as Democratic and possibly a little more so than it is now. Districts C and J may have gone for King in 2015 as noted, but Democrats Abbie Kamin and Shelley Kennedy are the choices in C (Greg Meyers and Mary Jane Smith finished just behind Kennedy), while Ed Pollard and Sandra Rodriguez are the contenders in J. (Yes, Pollard is considerably more conservative than most Dems, especially on LGBT issues. He’ll be the next Dwight Boykins in that regard if he wins.) District F has been (with a two-year break from 2013 to 2015) Republican going back to the 90s, but Tiffany Thomas is in pole position. She will no doubt benefit from the Mayoral runoff.

– I should note that in District C, the four candidates who were on a Greater Heights Democratic Club candidate forum I moderated in September – Kamin, Kennedy, Candelario Cervantez, and Amanda Wolfe; Kendra Yarbrough Camarena was also in the forum but switched to the HD148 race – combined for 55% of the vote in C. That’s a nice chunk of your HD134, CD02 and CD07 turf, and another illustration of how Donald Trump has helped kill the Republican Party in Harris County.

– Speaking of HD148, 69% of the vote there went to the Democratic candidates. Jessica Farrar got 68% in 2018, and she was on the high end.

– Remember when I said this about HD148 candidate Adrian Garcia? “It’s certainly possible some people will think he’s the County Commissioner, but whether they’d be happy to vote for him or confused as to why he’d be running for another office is a question I can’t answer.” I would say now the answer is “happy to vote for him”, because with all due respect I cannot see how he finishes third in that field if he was differently named. Low profile special elections are just weird.

– To be fair, name recognition also surely helped Dolcefino and Dick, neither of whom had much money. One had a famous name, and one has been a candidate multiple times, while littering the streets with his yard signs, so there is that.

– I’m just about out of steam here, but let me say this again: We. Must. Defeat. Dave. Wilson. Tell everyone you know to make sure they vote for Monica Flores Richart in the HCC 1 runoff. We cannot screw that up.

– If you still need more, go read Stace, Nonsequiteuse, and Chris Hooks.

Final results are in

Here they are. Refer to my previous post for the initial recap, I’m going to be very minimalist. Let’s do this PowerPoint-style, it’s already been a long day:

Mayor – Turner fell short of 50%, landing up a bit below 47%. He and Buzbee will be in a runoff. Which, if nothing else, means a much higher turnout for the runoff.

Controller: Chris Brown wins.

District A: Peck versus Zoes.
District B: Jackson versus Bailey.
District C: Kamin versus Kennedy. Gotta say, it’s a little surprising, but quite nice, for it to be an all-Dem runoff. Meyers came close to catching Kennedy, but she hung on to second place.
District D: Brad Jordan had a late surge, and will face Carolyn Evans-Shabazz in the runoff. If Evans-Shabazz wins, she’ll need to resign her spot on the HCC Board, so there would be another new Trustee if that happens.
District F: Thomas versus Huynh. Other than the two years we had of Richard Nguyen, this seat has pretty much always been held by a Republican. Tiffany Thomas has a chance to change that.
District H: Cisneros verusus Longoria.
District J: Pollard versus Rodriguez. Sandra Rodriguez had a late surge and nearly finished ahead of Pollard. Very evenly matched in Round One.

At Large #1: Knox versus Salhotra. Both candidates will benefit from the Mayoral runoff, though I think Raj may be helped more.
At Large #2: Robinson versus Davis, a rerun from 2015.
At Large #3: Kubosh slipped below 50% and will face Janaeya Carmouche in overtime.
At Large #4: Dolcefino versus Plummer. We will have somewhere between zero and four Republicans in At Large seats, in case anyone needs some non-Mayoral incentive for December.
At Large #5: Alcorn versus Eric Dick. Lord, please spare me Eric Dick. I don’t ask for much.

HISD: Dani Hernandez and Judith Cruz ousted incumbents Sergio Lira and Diana Davila. Maybe that will make the TEA look just a teeny bit more favorably on HISD. Kathy Blueford Daniels will face John Curtis Gibbs, and Matt Barnes had a late surge to make it into the runoff against Patricia Allen.

HCC: Monica Flores Richart inched up but did not make it to fifty percent, so we’re not quite rid of Dave Wilson yet. Rhonda Skillern-Jones will face Kathy Lynch-Gunter in that runoff.

HD148: A late surge by Anna Eastman gives her some distance between her and Luis La Rotta – Eastman got 20.34%, La Rotta 15.84%. The Republican share of the vote fell from 34% to 32%, right on what they got in this district in 2018.

Now you are up to date. Go get some sleep.

2019 election results: Houston and Metro

Unfortunately, we have to start with this:

Results of Tuesday’s election could take until 2 a.m. Wednesday after the Texas Secretary of State issued a new regulation that upended plans by the Harris County Clerk’s Office to speed vote counting.

The first tubs containing electronic ballot cards from across Harris County arrived at central count just before 9:30 p.m., where election judges and poll watchers waited to see the vote count in action.

Dr. Diane Trautman said she had hoped to have votes come in from 10 countywide drop-off locations, fed in through a secured intranet site, leading to faster results on election night.

Instead, Secretary Ruth R. Hughs ordered on Oct. 23 that law enforcement officers would instead escort the ballot box memory cards from each of the 757 polling sites to the central counting station.

That change, made nearly two weeks before Election Day, led to a major delay that left voters wondering for hours how races up and down ballot would turn out.

Early election results trickled in shortly after 7 p.m., but remained virtually unchanged for hours Tuesday.

Here’s the County Clerk’s statement about that order. I don’t know what was behind it, but it sure did gum things up. In the end, final results were not available till quite late, with no more partial results after midnight because producing those was slowing down the input process. Here’s the later statement on when results would be expected. Suffice to say, this was a mess, and no one is happy about it all. Expect there to be an extended fight between the County Clerk and SOS offices.

Anyway. I’m still groggy from a late night, so I’m going to hit the highlights, and we’ll get final results later. Here we go.

Mayor: Turner leads, is close to a majority.

Mayor Sylvester Turner held a wide lead over Tony Buzbee in limited early returns late Tuesday and was within striking distance of an outright re-election win, though it was unclear at press time if he would secure enough votes to avoid a runoff.

Buzbee, a millionaire trial lawyer, jumped out to an early second-place lead that he appeared likely to retain over Bill King, an attorney and businessman who narrowly lost a 2015 runoff to Turner but struggled this time to compete financially with Buzbee, his main rival for conservative votes.

With a small share of Election Day precincts reporting, Turner remained a shade under the majority vote share he would need to avoid a December runoff against Buzbee.

Councilman Dwight Boykins, who competed with Turner for the support of Democratic and black voters, trailed in fourth place, while former councilwoman Sue Lovell was further behind in fifth. Seven other candidates combined for the remaining share of the vote.

Adding in the Fort Bend results, and we get the following:


Turner     63,359  47.28%
Buzbee     39,361  29.37%
King       17,878  13.34%
Boykins     7,848   5.86%
Lovell      1,433   1.07%
The Rest    4,121   3.08%

Three things to think about: One, Turner has at this point more votes than Buzbee and King combined, so if we do go to a runoff that’s not a bad position to start with. Two, the Election Day results reported so far came mostly from Districts A, C, E, and G, so they would be more favorable to Buzbee and King than the city as a whole. And three, the election polling was pretty accurate, especially at pegging the support levels for Boykins and Lovell.

Oh, and a fourth thing: Tony Buzbee’s drunken Election Night speech. Yowza.

Controller: Incumbent Chris Brown leads

It’s Brown 62,297 and Sanchez 54,864 adding in Fort Bend, and again with mostly Republican votes from yesterday (Sanchez led the Election Day tally by about 1,700 votes). Barring a big surprise, Brown has won.

City Council: Most incumbents have big leads, and there’s gonna be a lot of runoffs. To sum up:

District A: Amy Peck has 44.3%, George Zoes 16.8%
District B: Tarsha Jackson 21.0%, Renee Jefferson Smith 15.1%, Cynthia Bailey 13.7%, Alvin Byrd 10.7%
District C: Abbie Kamin 30.8%, Shelley Kennedy 15.8%, Greg Meyers 14.4%, Mary Jane Smith 14.0%
District D: Carolyn Evans-Shabazz 19.0%, Carla Brailey 12.3%, Brad Jordan 11.9%, Rashad Cave 11.4%, Jerome Provost 10.4%, Andrew Burks 10.3%
District E: Dave Martin easily wins
District F: Tiffany Thomas 39%, Van Huynh 24%, Richard Nguyen 18%
District G: Greg Travis easily wins
District H: Karla Cisneros 38.9%, Isabel Longoria 27.5%, Cynthia Reyes-Revilla 24.0%
District I: Robert Gallegos easily wins
District J: Edward Pollard 32.4%, Sandra Rodriguez 26.4%, Barry Curtis 19.7%
District K: MArtha Castex-Tatum easily wins

At Large #1: Mike Knox 38.1%, Raj Salhotra 21.1%, Yolanda Navarro Flores 16.3%, Georgia Provost 14.7%
At Large #2: Davis Robinson 38.9%, Willie Davis 28.8%, Emily DeToto 18.8%
At Large #3: Michael Kubosh 50.8%, Janaeya Carmouche 20.6%
At Large #4: Anthony Dolcefino 22.9%, Letitia Plummer 16.4%, Nick Hellyar 12.8%, Ericka McCrutcheon 11.3%, Bill Baldwin 10.5%
At Large #5: Sallie Alcorn 23.2%, Eric Dick 22.0%, no one else above 10

Some of the runoff positions are still very much up in the air. Michael Kubosh may or may not win outright – he was only at 46% on Election Day. Name recognition worth a lot (Dolcefino, Dick) but not everything (both Provosts, Burks). Not much else to say but stay tuned.

HISD: Davila and Lira are going to lose

Dani Hernandez leads Sergio Lira 62-38, Judith Cruz leads Diana Davila 64-36. Kathy Blueford Daniels is close to fifty percent in II but will likely be in a runoff with John Curtis Gibbs. Patricia Allen, Reagan Flowers, and Matt Barnes in that order are in a tight battle in IV.

HCC: No story link on the Chron front page. Monica Flores Richart leads the execrable Dave Wilson 47-34 in HCC1, Rhonda Skillern-Jones leads with 45% in HCC2 with Kathy Lynch-Gunter at 26%, and Cynthia Lenton-Gary won HCC7 unopposed.

Metro: Headed to easy passage, with about 68% so far.

That’s all I got for now. Come back later for more.

30 Day campaign finance reports: Incumbents and challengers for Council

As before, my look at the July 2019 finance reports for these candidates is here, and all of the finance reports that I have downloaded and reviewed are in this Google folder. Except for the reports that were filed non-electronically, which you can find here. Erik Manning’s invaluable spreadsheet remains my source for who’s in what race.


Candidate     Raised      Spent     Loan     On Hand
====================================================
Martin         8,150     20,389        0     147,952
Cleveland      5,682      5,330        0         352

Travis         9,800     20,193   21,000     121,297
Pletka         4,167      3,289        0           4
Baker              0        582        0           0

Cisneros      20,281     38,605        0      93,941
Longoria      49,639     20,243        0      23,589
ReyesRevilla  10,356      5,809        0      16,187
Salcedo

Gallegos      16,510     47,728        0     115,718
Gonzales       5,190      4,159    4,310       5,190

Castex-Tatum  15,850     11,568        0      44,409
Vander-Lyn       625          0        0           0
Sauke            100      2,008        0         130

Knox          32,188     35,540        0      24,990
Salhotra      81,218     67,748        0     180,947
Provost        4,850      4,775        0         468
Nav Flores       259        259        0           0
Blackmon

Robinson      52,008     48,267        0     255,938
Davis         20,665     29,110    3,000       8,832
Griffin        1,350        700        0         650
Detoto            24      3,124      500         439
Honey

Kubosh        40,035     39,076  276,000     122,578
Carmouche      3,975      7,156        0         708
McClinton     14,787     18,577        0       4,895
Gonzalez

Not a whole lot of interest here. There are multiple candidates who entered the race too late to have a July report who are showing up this time, but outside of Isabel Longoria in H none of them made much of an impression. That race continues to be the most interesting non-Mayoral challenge to an incumbent on the ballot. Karla Cisneros has plenty of resources available to her, but she’s in a fight.

Beyond that, as I said, not much to say. I wish Janaeya Carmouche had raised more money. Willie Davis and Marcel McClinton did raise a few bucks, but not nearly enough to make a difference in a citywide race. There’s just nothing else to say. I’ll have more reports tomorrow.

UPDATE: Because I’m an idiot, I overlooked the At Large #1 race initially. Raj Salhotra continues his fundraising superiority, while Mike Knox at least raised a few bucks, and no one else did anything of note. I see a lot of Raj signs in my neighborhood, but I think I’d feel better if I saw a TV ad or two from his campaign. Old-fashioned, I know, but it’s still the best way to reach a lot of voters.

Endorsement watch: Mistakes were made

A swing and a miss.

As a city council member, Mike Knox has not been afraid to clash with Mayor Sylvester Turner.

He voted against a $650,000 contract to boost participation in the 2020 Census, saying he had reservations about the “missions and agendas” of the firm chosen to do outreach.

He was one of six council members to vote against a contract that will pay up to $3 million over five years for musicians to perform live at Bush Intercontinental and Hobby airports — a program strongly endorsed by Turner.

And he was the only council member to cast a “no” vote on Turner’s historic pension reform proposal.

But Knox, 60,a former police officer running for a second-four year term in the At-Large Position 1 seat, is not merely a contrarian. Knox objected to the airport music contract because he thought the money could be better used for airport amenities, such as improved signage. He opposed an ordinance banning smokeless tobacco use by professional baseball players at Minute Maid Park, on the grounds that it violated the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause.

Knox’s said he voted against Turner’s pension plan because the mayor did not provide a draft copy to review. “Now I’m not in the habit and I will not be in the habit of voting for things that I don’t know what I’m voting on,” he told the editorial board.

The editorial board has tended to agree with the mayor on many of these issues, but what’s important about Knox’s positions is his ability to dispassionately look at policy options and, when he disagrees, to be willing to offer an opposing view anchored by logic. “We make too many decisions based on emotion, situational ethics and also just the desire to make a political statement.”

Yeah, that’s baloney. It’s fine to have principles, as long as they lead you to doing the right thing. Voting against Census outreach, at a time when the state Republican leadership is openly hostile to cities, is in itself disqualifying, and no one who votes against the pension reform plan gets to call themselves “fiscally responsible” or “fiscally conservative”, no matter what the pretext was for the No vote. The Chron rightfully had nice things to say later on about Raj Salhotra, but said he needed “some experience under his belt”. If Mike Knox is what having experience looks like, then “experience” isn’t all that useful, either. No thank you very much.

Anyway. My interview with Raj Salhotra is here, and the July finance reports that include At Large #1 is here; the 30 day reports are on their way, I swear.

That odd decision was then followed up with the even more confounding endorsement of CM Michael Kubosh.

In the last municipal election cycle, this editorial board endorsed Michael Kubosh for City Council At-Large Position 3 with a significant caveat: His opposition to Houston’s equal rights amendment (HERO) and his use of fear-mongering rhetoric gave us pause.

“If HERO were the only issue on the agenda for City Council’s next term,” we wrote in 2015, “Kubosh’s actions would be reason enough to boot him from office.”

As reasons to look past his wrongheaded views on the gay and transgender community, we pointed to the political skills that helped him pass an amendment to the mayor’s budget, his success in getting the funds needed to fish abandoned cars from the city’s bayous in a joint project with Harris County and his knack for constituent services.

Four years later, we are again torn. Kubosh kept his promise to retrieve submerged cars, a project that has removed more than 80 vehicles from Sims and Brays Bayou. He has been spearheading an effort to bring an Astro World-like theme park to Houston, a project that Mayor Sylvester Turner hinted in a recent tweet may be on the horizon. He has advocated for distribution of Harvey relief funds to the victims most in need.

However, in a candidate screening, Kubosh several times expressed opinions that reminded us powerfully of the caveats the board felt when recommending him last time. He said it is wrong to fire someone because they are gay or transgender and cited his hiring of a gay lawyer as proof that he doesn’t hold anti-gay sentiment, yet he also maintained — misleadingly — that the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance would have allowed any man to dress up as a woman and go into a women’s restroom.

“At the very end I couldn’t vote with them to allow a woman’s privacy to be violated not by a transgender person but by a possible predator who learned that Houston will now let you in their restrooms if you dress as a woman,” he told the editorial board. The conflation of transgender women with predators is not only offensive, it has been thoroughly debunked. And to state the obvious: There are already plenty of laws making it a crime for anyone to sneak into a bathroom to harm or harass anyone.

Kubosh, 68, also described Drag Queen Storytime at the Houston Public Library as a showcase for “adult entertainment” that could potentially harm children. That mindset is troubling, especially for a council member who represents all Houstonians — including members of the gay and transgender community.

As one of Kubosh’s challengers, Janaeya Carmouche, rightly pointed out, being a city council member is “not just simply the day-to-day minutiae of the job or the machinations of the job. It is understanding that you have a platform and your voice and your opinion will be amplified.“

They then wistfully conclude that Janaeya Carmouche and Marcel McClinton, like Raj Salhotra, might be Council-worthy some day, but today they are too young and inexperienced, and then finish up by expressing the hope that Kubosh will somehow be a different person over the next four years than he has shown himself to be. Hey, remember when the Chron endorsed Ted Cruz in 2012 on the grounds that they hoped he would stop being Ted Cruz and magically transform into someone who would be more like Kay Bailey Hutchison? I sure do. How’d that work out? I don’t know who’s writing these endorsement editorials these days, but they sure seem to lack the basic experience needed to understand how human nature works.

Look, if the editorial board likes and agrees with Michael Kubosh, then by all means they should endorse him. If they think his accomplishments outweigh the things about him they find offensive and troubling, then endorse him. If they think there’s sufficient value in having him on Council to serve as a check on Mayor Turner, then endorse him. (Just curious here: do they think Kubosh, or Mike Knox for that matter, would serve as a check on Tony Buzbee or Bill King?) But endorsing their fantasy version of Michael Kubosh, especially when they have already demonstrated that trick never works, is delusional and a disservice to the readers.

A brief look at the Council incumbents who face contested races

I think two, and hopefully three, of these races are truly competitive. The others, not so much.

Raj Salhotra

Asked how she would operate differently from City Councilwoman Karla Cisneros, the District H incumbent she is trying to unseat in November, Isabel Longoria did not mince words.

“What I would do different is … not be afraid to stand up to folks and say, here are the decisions we have to make — and not hide until the last minute because I’m scared to upset people,” Longoria, a former city planning commissioner and legislative policy aide, told the Chronicle editorial board last week.

Cisneros, a former HISD board president and first-term council member, shot back, “I’ve experienced this my whole life. I have a very feminine look about me, my voice is soft, and I can tell you that I am often underestimated. I’ve been called an iron fist in a velvet glove, for good reason.”

The exchange displayed the heightening intensity evident in many of the 16 Houston city council races, including eight involving incumbents defending their seats this fall. If any one of their challengers wins, the result would add to what already is guaranteed to be a seismic turnover on council, as half the current body is term-limited or not seeking re-election.

[…]

Aside from the District H race, which also includes real estate agent and neighborhood advocate Cynthia Reyes-Revilla and scientific researcher Gaby Salcedo, multiple challengers are hoping to force At-Large Councilmen Mike Knox (Position 1), David Robinson (Position 2) and Michael Kubosh (Position 3) into runoffs. Two district council members — Greg Travis of District G and Martha Castex-Tatum of District K — also face multiple opponents, while District E Councilman Dave Martin and District I Councilman Robert Gallegos each have drawn one challenger.

Knox, an Air Force veteran and former Houston police officer, generally is seen as one of the most vulnerable incumbents, thanks in part to a sluggish fundraising start compared to Raj Salhotra, one of his opponents. Salhotra raised $220,000 during the first six months of the year, compared to Knox’s $40,000 haul.

Still, Knox’s opponents — Larry Blackmon, Yolanda Navarro Flores, Georgia Provost and Salhotra — may have a tough time unseating him, depending on how many people turn out to vote. Knox would have the edge “if the electorate is the way it typically is in a municipal year — older and conservative,” [UH poli saci prof Brandon] Rottinghaus said.

Salhotra’s fundraising, and Provost’s strength among black voters — especially with competitive races in District B and D drawing voters — will counter Knox’s strengths, said Jay Aiyer, a public policy consultant and former chief of staff to Mayor Lee Brown. However, Aiyer added, Knox’s opponent in a potential runoff would need to draw at least some non-traditional voters.

“That’s one of the dangers when assessing the vulnerability of someone like Knox,” Aiyer said. “A lot of the younger candidates running social media-driven campaigns, geared toward energizing new or young voters — that’s a real uphill battle in a municipal election.”

Rottinghaus said the partisan nature of the race — with Democrats generally coalescing behind Salhotra and Republicans backing Knox — means the result will say a lot about the state of Houston’s electorate.

“This is really a story about the changing nature of the city. In a microcosm, this will be the most telling election — in addition to the mayor’s race — of how Houston and the region has changed,” he said.

Beating Kubosh, meanwhile, will require a mix of grass-roots support and a large war chest, Aiyer said. One of Kubosh’s opponents, Janaeya Carmouche, has built connections in progressive circles as a city council staffer and, more recently, deputy director of engagement for Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis. Carmouche also will have to report a significant fundraising amount in her next campaign finance report to be competitive, Aiyer said.

“I’m undaunted by the idea of incumbency, because I don’t believe in ownership of a position,” Carmouche said. “I believe that we have to earn that right every time.”

Also challenging Kubosh is Marcel McClinton, a recent high school graduate who has gained renown for his gun control advocacy after surviving a 2016 church shooting. He said he would push council to consider recommendations from the mayor’s commission against gun violence and prioritize climate change initiatives and flood control.

At Large #1 and District H, where I am, are definitely the ones to watch. Raj Salhotra has run a strong campaign and raised a lot of money, which he’s going to need to get his name out there to enough voters. I remain puzzled by Knox’s anemic fundraising totals. He’s a conservative Republican in a Democratic city, he’s not been very high profile on Council, and he has nowhere near enough money to run a robust citywide campaign. Maybe he figured he was playing with house money to begin with, maybe he just isn’t much for doing the dirty work, I don’t know. What I do know is that if Raj can get him into a runoff – he has to finish ahead of Georgia Provost, which is not a slam dunk – he can win.

As for District H, I don’t underestimate CM Cisneros, but I will note that in my neighborhood, which is also her neighborhood, I see a lot of Longoria and Reyes-Revilla signs. That doesn’t strike me as a great omen for her. I do see Cisneros signs, too, it just seems like her base has eroded. Looking back at the four-person race in November of 2015, she got 269 of 510 votes (52.7%) in Precinct 3 and 361 of 578 votes (62.5%) in Precinct 4, which combine to cover much of the Woodland Heights. I’m not feeling that for her this time. I could be wrong, and she can at least easily make it to a runoff even with a lesser performance in those two boxes. Outside of Knox, though, she appears to be the incumbent with the strongest opposition.

I’d like to add At Large #3 to this list, but I’m going to need to see a stronger finance report from Janaeya Carmouche first, and I’m going to need to see some evidence of actual campaigning from Marcel McClinton. (This isn’t quite what I had in mind, but it is impressive and laudable nonetheless.) Michael Kubosh hasn’t raised much money, either, but he has some self-funding capability, and unlike Knox has a fair amount of name recognition. He’s the favorite until and unless something changes.

The open seat races are more competitive, and much more chaotic overall. I have no idea what might happen in most of them. I presume we’ll get some overview stories on those contests in the next week or two.

Previous interviews with current candidates

I’ve said a few times that I’m going to be doing just a few interviews this fall. I will start publishing them tomorrow. I may pick up some more for the runoffs, but for now my schedule just does not accommodate anything more than that. But! That doesn’t mean you can’t listen to past interviews with some of the people on your November ballot. Many of the people running now have run for something before, and in many of those cases I interviewed them. Here then is a list of those past interviews. The office listed next to some of them is the office they now seek, and the year in parentheses is when I spoke to them. Note that a few of these people have been interviewed more than once; in those cases, I went with the most recent conversation. Enjoy!

Mayor:

Sylvester Turner (2015)
Bill King (2015)
Dwight Boykins (2013)
Sue Lovell (2009)

Council:

Amy Peck – District A (2013)
Alvin Byrd – District B (2011)
Kendra Yarbrough Camarena – District C (2010)
Carolyn Evans-Shabazz – District D (2017)
Richard Nguyen – District F (2015)
Greg Travis – District G (2015)
Karla Cisneros – District H (2015)
Robert Gallegos – District I (2015)
Jim Bigham – District J (2015)
Edward Pollard – District J (2016)

Mike Knox – At Large #1 (2013)
Georgia Provost – At Large #1 (2013)
David Robinson – At Large #2 (2015)
Michael Kubosh – At Large #3 (2013)
Letitia Plummer – At Large #4 (2018)

Controller:

Chris Brown – City Controller (2015)

HISD:

Sergio Lira – District III (2015)
Jolanda Jones – District IV (2015)
Judith Cruz – District VIII

HCC:

Monica Flores Richart – District 1 (2017)
Rhonda Skillern-Jones – District 2 (2015)

July 2019 campaign finance reports: Incumbents and challengers for Council and Controller

Let me start by saying that I began this post before Amanda Edwards became a candidate for Senate. I’m going to keep the AL4 race in here, in part to include Edwards’ June report totals, and in part because I’m just stubborn that way. I did add in the candidates who have jumped into AL4, so this is as up to date as I am. Feel free to tell me who I’ve missed.

As before, my look at the January 2019 finance reports for Houston candidates is here, and all of the finance reports that I have downloaded and reviewed are in this Google folder. Except for the reports that were filed non-electronically, which you can find here. Erik Manning’s invaluable spreadsheet remains my source for who’s in what race.

Dave Martin – District E
Sam Cleveland – District E
Ryan Lee – District E

Greg Travis – District G

Karla Cisneros – District H
Isabel Longoria – District H
Cynthia Reyes-Revilla – District H

Robert Gallegos – District I
Rick Gonzales – District I

Martha Castex-Tatum – District K

Mike Knox – At Large #1
Michelle Bonton – At Large #1
Georgia Provost – At Large #1
Raj Salhotra – At Large #1

David Robinson – At Large #2
Willie Davis – At Large #2
Emily Detoto – At Large #2

Michael Kubosh – At Large #3
Janaeya Carmouche – At Large #3
Marcel McClinton – At Large #3
Goku Sankar – At Large #3

Amanda Edwards – At Large #4
Christel Bastida – At Large #4
Tiko Reynolds-Hausman – At Large #4
Ericka McCrutcheon – At Large #4
Jason Rowe – At Large #4
Nick Hellyar – At Large #4
Letitia Plummer – At Large #4

Chris Brown – Controller
Amparo Gasca – Controller


Candidate     Raised      Spent     Loan     On Hand
====================================================
Martin        49,450     18,939        0     151,184
Cleveland
Lee

Travis        68,234     15,749   21,000     131,691

Cisneros      54,325      8,959        0     109,471
Longoria
R-Revilla     19,408      1,859        0      17,130

Gallegos      65,100     25,016        0     145,090
Gonzales         400      3,627    3,510         400

C-Tatum       37,200     13,664        0      40,128

Knox          40,295     45,555        0      41,171
Bonton
Provost
Salhotra     220,377     30,340        0     178,539

Robinson      88,616     27,043        0     262,221
Davis         10,250      3,051    3,000         807
Detoto         2,600      2,660      500         439

Kubosh        43,875     20,319  276,000     122,870
Carmouche      8,950      5,397    1,000       3,706
McClinton     25,823     21,739        0       8,675
Sankar

Edwards       73,807     42,179        0     192,791
Bastida        1,103         51      200         750
R-Hausman
McCrutcheon    5,100      7,225    5,000
Rowe               0          0        0           0
Hellyar       37,017     34,446        0      20,501
Plummer       64,519     36,356        0      43,795

Brown         66,611     36,522   75,000     234,350
Gasca

I know Tiko Reynolds-Hausman and Isabel Longoria entered their races in July, so they have no reports yet. That may be true for some others as well, but if so I’m not aware of them.

Let’s get the easy ones out of the way first. Greg Travis and Martha Castex-Tatum don’t have opponents. Chris Brown, Dave Martin, and Robert Gallegos may as well not have them, either. I know, there’s still a few months to go before the election, but none of the purported challengers appear to be doing much. Heck, only Sam Cleveland even has a website, though Ryan Lee and Rick Gonzales do at least have Facebook pages. So yeah, nothing to see here.

David Robinson and Michael Kubosh have opponents who have been a bit more active – Willie Davis is a repeat candidate, having run in 2015 against Robinson – but so far don’t appear to pose too much of a threat.

The threat to Karla Cisneros is greater, and potentially severe. I’ve already seen a couple of signs for her opponents in my neighborhood, and while Isabel Longoria hasn’t had a chance to post a finance report yet, Cynthia Reyes-Revilla’s totals are OK. Not terrifying if you’re the incumbent, but not nothing. Keep this one in your back pocket, and we’ll revisit when the 30 day reports are posted.

Had Amanda Edwards decided to stay in Houston and run for re-election, I’d have grouped her with the not-really-challenged incumbents. With AL4 now an open seat, and the field likely to expand further (*checks the Manning spreadsheet one last time to make sure no one else has entered the race*), it’s also open in the sense that there’s no clear frontrunner. Nick Hellyar and Letitia Plummer, who had started out in other races, have the early fundraising lead, but not enough to present a significant obstacle. Hellyar has picked up multiple endorsements from current and former elected officials, which ought to boost his coffers, but we’ll see what that means in practice. We really don’t know anything about this race right now.

And then there’s At Large #1. If you knew nothing about this election and I told you that Raj Salhotra was the incumbent and Mike Know was a challenger, you’d believe me based on their numbers. I can’t recall the last time an incumbent was so thoroughly outclassed in this regard. That’s great for Salhotra, whose biggest challenge isn’t Knox as much as it is Georgia Provost, who nudged past four better-funded candidates as well as ultra-perennial candidate Griff Griffin to make it into the runoff in 2015. She’s going to get her share of votes, especially if the voters don’t know the other candidates on the ballot. Salhotra is well on his way to having the resources to run a sufficient citywide campaign and introduce himself to the electorate. In what should be a prelude to another runoff, he just needs to finish in the top two. So far, so good.

I’ll break up the open seat races into two or three more posts. Did I mention there were a crap-ton of candidates this year? Let me know what you think.

Here come the youths

There are a lot of younger candidates running for Houston City Council this year.

Raj Salhotra

Inspired by the recent electoral success of millennial and Generation Z-aged candidates, more young people are running for Houston city council than ever before, a trend local politicos attribute to the potent national surge of activism stemming largely from President Trump’s election in 2016.

In last year’s midterm election, many of those new, young activists ran for office and won. Since the election, 29-year-old U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has become one of the Democratic Party’s most prominent voices, while locally 28-year-old Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo has led a dramatic political shift on Commissioners Court, which flipped to Democratic control for the first time in decades.

“I think we have to acknowledge the success in the 2018 cycle of millennials and very young candidates,” said education consultant Jay Aiyer, who served as former Mayor Lee Brown’s chief of staff at age 29.

A handful of candidates younger than 30, and at least a dozen more in their 30s, are seeking seats this year on Houston city council, the legislative body for the country’s fourth-largest city. Though council members have little formal power in Houston’s strong-mayor form of government, they approve an annual city budget north of $5 billion and handle constituent services for districts comprised of around 200,000 residents.

Among the youngest contenders are 18-year-old Marcel McClinton, a shooting survivor-turned-activist running for one of five at-large positions; 21-year-old Anthony Dolcefino, a candidate for District C; 24-year-old District D candidate Dennis Griffin; and 29-year-old Anthony Nelson, a Prairie View A&M University student running for District F.

[…]

Raj Salhotra, 28, is one of three candidates challenging At-Large 1 Councilman Mike Knox, a former police officer who is seeking a second four-year term. Also running are Michelle Bonton and Georgia Provost.

Salhotra is calling for the city to offer universal prekindergarten and more public transit, enforce more regulations on “pollutant-emitting plants” and require all new city vehicles be hybrid or electric.

Meanwhile, Knox repeatedly has pushed for the city to rein in what he calls “frivolous spending,” and to focus on core services — public safety, infrastructure, trash pickup — before thinking about anything else.

“The citizens of Houston want our government to spend money wisely and efficiently, and get the biggest bang for our buck,” Knox said. “My votes are designed to help the city stop its overspending habits and get back to focusing on our core responsibilities, and thereby staying within our means.”

Salhotra criticized Knox for, among other things, voting not to join a lawsuit challenging Texas’ anti-“sanctuary cities” law, and called Knox “really out of step with what the vast majority of Houstonians believe in.” Salhotra’s own policy views, he said, are rooted partly in his age.

“I think a lot about, how are the policies we put in place today affecting the next 30, 40, 50 years in Houston?” Salhotra said. “Because I’m going to be living here for the next 60 years of my life, God willing.”

[…]

The race for District C, which includes Montrose, Meyerland and Braeswood, has emerged as the most crowded contest: Thirteen people are running to succeed Cohen, who recently endorsed 32-year-old Abbie Kamin. Other candidates include Candelario Cervantez, 36, Nick Hellyar, 38, and the 21-year-old Dolcefino, son of former KTRK reporter Wayne Dolcefino.

“We’re living in a serious time, we’re at a critical juncture in this city, and certainly in the country, and it’s going to take everyone to be active and fighting — of all age groups,” Kamin said.

As is always the case, some of these candidates are more serious than others, and thus more likely to succeed than others. I’m starting to look through the campaign finance reports, which will give one indicator of how these and other candidates are doing. Turn your nose up however you like at the notion of fundraising being a proxy for candidate seriousness, the fact remains that it’s hard to get elected if no one knows who you are, and getting your name into the minds of voters doesn’t happen by magic or wishful thinking. It costs money to run a campaign, and that money has to come from somewhere.

Be that as it may, there’s another dynamic at play here that needs to be discussed. Historically speaking, at least, the voters in our city elections are old. How old? Here’s some research I did in 2015, which I’m just going to reprint here, as I think the numbers speak for themselves:


2013 voters

Range    Number    Pct
======================
18-30     9,786   5.6%
31-40    15,209   8.7%
41-50    23,508  13.5%
51-60    40,235  23.1%
61+      85,393  49.0%


2011 voters

Range    Number    Pct
======================
18-30     5,939   5.0%
31-40     9,488   8.1%
41-50    17,126  14.5%
51-60    28,601  24.3%
61+      56,664  48.1%


2009 voters

Range    Number    Pct
======================
18-30    10,021   5.7%
31-40    16,798   9.6%
41-50    29,664  16.9%
51-60    43,814  25.0%
61+      74,730  42.7%


2007 voters

Range    Number    Pct
======================
18-30     5,791   5.0%
31-40    10,599   9.2%
41-50    21,090  18.4%
51-60    28,633  24.9%
61+      48,728  42.4%

So yeah, when between two-thirds and three-fourths of your voters are over the age of 50 (a group that includes me now), it’s going to be that much more of a challenge for 20-something and even 30-something candidates to be taken seriously. It can be done – judging by the year of her college graduation as shown on her LinkedIn page, CM Amanda Edwards was 33 when she was elected in 2015 – but it’s a hurdle that older candidates don’t face. Let me know when someone writes a story about that.

Now of course, this calculus can be changed to some extent by simply getting more young voters to the polls. I don’t have the data for 2018, but there’s plenty of evidence nationally that younger voters were a larger part of that electorate than they were in 2016, and much more so than in 2014. That only goes so far, of course – there are only so many people between the ages of 18 and 40, let alone registered voters, let alone actual voters – and turning them out at a higher rate is much, much easier said than done. Perhaps some of the 2018 energy will carry over – I’d expect it to have some effect, though not much – but the fact remains that the regular, reliable voters are the ones who largely determine these elections. That’s the task all of these candidates, of any age, have before them. Good luck.

(Is it just me, or does everyone else always hear the word “youths” spoken in the voice of Joe Pesci?)

Census outreach

I am puzzled why this is controversial.

A divided city council on Wednesday approved a $650,000 contract aimed at boosting the number of Houston residents who participate in the 2020 census, a measure that generated partisan debate in which some council members worried the outreach would have a liberal bent.

Under the contract, Lopez Negrete Communications — a firm specializing in Hispanic marketing — will conduct outreach intended to improve response rates in the 2020 national survey. Council members passed the deal on an 11-6 vote, with most of the council’s conservative cohort voting against it.

The hour-long debate centered around allegations from a handful of council members who said subcontracting companies or partnering organizations may conduct census outreach in a way that is slanted toward Democrats or liberals.

Mayor Sylvester Turner repeatedly dismissed the idea, telling council members the contract “has no partisan bent at all,” and would bring in more money to Houston, because the federal government distributes funds to cities and other local communities based on census data.

The mayor has said a signficant undercount could impact city services, with each uncounted person costing the city about $1,500 in federal funding. In 2018, the Census Bureau posted a slow population growth estimate for Houston, creating a $17 million hole in the city budget.

At-Large Councilman Mike Knox clashed with Turner over the deal, expressing concern that the main firm would partner with organizations that have unknown “missions and agendas.” For instance, Knox said council could not prevent organizations from conducting voter registration efforts amid census outreach.

[…]

District I Councilman Robert Gallegos, a vocal supporter of the contract, criticized his colleagues for opposing it, saying outreach is needed to counteract the impact of a possible census citizenship question.

“Residents in my district are fearful of filling out that census,” said Gallegos, whose southeast Houston district is overwhelmingly Hispanic.

He also said it was “frightening” that Knox took exception to the deal over concerns that those conducting census outreach may also register people to vote.

“That right there, I just thought it was a joke,” Gallegos said after the meeting. He said Houston would risk losing social programs and political representation if the city’s population is under-counted.

Either Lopez Negrete will do a good job of delivering the service they have been contracted to provide – boosting the response rate on the Census, to ensure that Houston is properly counted and thus gets its fair share of political representation and federal resources – at a fair price, or they won’t. I’m not saying a firm’s politics or values can’t be an issue, but the job has to be the first priority, and I don’t see anyone raising concerns about that. As for Mike Knox’s issues with Lopez Negrete possibly registering voters, I presume this is the usual Republican fear and loathing, and I have no time for that. Let’s make sure all our people get counted. That’s what matters. KUHF has more.

July 2018 finance reports: City of Houston

Every level of government requires finance reports in January and June, whether or not there is an active election cycle in that year. That includes the city of Houston, whose january report data we inspected here. Our next election is in 2019, and while this is still traditionally a little early for there to be much activity, there are the finance reports. Here’s what we’ve got:


Candidate       Office    Raised      Spent     Loan    On Hand
===============================================================
S Turner         Mayor   585,267    137,758        0  2,260,407

C Brown     Controller    13,070     17,650        0     59,164

M Knox      At Large 1    28,225     12,691        0     62,856 
D Robinson  At Large 2    61,650     21,468        0    162,079
M Kubosh    At Large 3    72,475     23,841  276,000     82,360
A Edwards   At Large 4    40,345     26,349        0    147,883
J Christie  At Large 5     3,263      6,055        0     25,918

B Stardig       Dist A    56,439     24,738        0    116,794
J Davis         Dist B    22,750     12,487        0    147,300
E Cohen         Dist C    33,990     18,591        0     57,264
D Boykins       Dist D   126,000     55,556        0     96,400
D Martin        Dist E    43,900     17,226        0    123,730
S Le            Dist F     4,000      6,445   30,823     10,570
G Travis        Dist G    69,468     81,775   21,000     56,571
K Cisneros      Dist H    34,399      5,660        0     49,176
R Gallegos      Dist I    32,875     21,319        0     80,288
M Laster        Dist J    20,330      7,524        0    173,358
M Castex-Tatum  Dist K    15,375        339    3,788     43,822

A Parker                       0     10,383        0     82,854
L Green                    5,500     42,118        0     40,492
Lift the Cap PAC               0          0        0      3,987
Citizens to Keep               0      1,803        0     47,564
 Houston Strong

As you may recall, there wasn’t much in the way of fundraising for anyone except Mayor Turner last time. I don’t know if it’s due to the time of year, the approach of the next election, or the overall political climate, but as you can see nearly all of our elected officials have been busy. The report for Martha Castex-Tatum, who was elected in May to succeed the late Larry Green, is in a shorter period than everyone else since she had to post 30-day and 8-day reports for her cycle; the others are all for the full January through June time frame.

Looking at these numbers, only Jack Christie has acted like the term-limited Member that he is. Brenda Stardig, Jerry Davis, Ellen Cohen, and Mike Laster have been more or less business as usual. I’ve speculated before about the possible future ambitions they may have, and I don’t have anything to add to that. I’m sure there’s a reason why the three non-Cohen members have been stockpiling the loot like this, but until they do something tangible it’s hard to say what that might be.

Which doesn’t mean we can’t speculate at all. I look at what Dwight Boykins and David Robinson are doing and I wonder a little. Both are on the ballot next year for their final terms (as always, modulo future rulings in the interminable term limits litigation), and while Robinson had to fend off four challengers and win in a runoff in 2015, Boykins cruised home unopposed. It could be that Robinson is merely gearing up for the next battle while Boykins is doing his best to keep potential opponents at bay. It could also be that they’re looking beyond their next term to a time when both the Mayor’s office and the Controller’s office will be open seats. I have no idea and no evidence – like I said, I’m just speculating. Dave Martin is also in that “one more term and has a lot of cash” group, but we don’t tend to elect Mayors who fit Martin’s political profile, though perhaps Controller might appeal to him.

Be all that as it may, this is the first time since we switched to four-year terms and no blackout period for fundraising that we’ve seen incumbents establish a clear financial advantage for themselves. No one on the outside has yet taken a concrete step (like designating a campaign treasurer and raising their own money) towards running for a Council seat, but do keep in mind there are several now-former candidates for Congress in town who likely have some cash remaining in their coffers (sorry, I’m only checking on still-active candidates). Surely it would not be a surprise if one or more of them decided to act more locally next year. Given that possibility, it’s hard to blame any of the members who are up for re-election next year to take precautions.

The remaining reports I included because they’re there. As we learned after the death of El Franco Lee, the remaining funds in Larry Green’s campaign account are to be distributed by his campaign treasurer, whose name is Kevin Riles. As we see from Lee’s July report, there’s no particular rush to do whatever that turns out to be. I don’t remember what Citizens to Keep Houston Strong was about, but Bill White is their treasurer. I’m sure we’ll see plenty more PACs and PAC activity as we move towards referenda for firefighters’ pay parity and the revenue cap.

Council approves Mayor’s budget

The annual ritual is observed.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Houston City Council adopted Mayor Sylvester Turner’s $4.9 billion budget by a vote of 13-4 Wednesday, ending three hours of otherwise amiable debate with an impassioned speech from Councilman Jack Christie that concluded with the councilman resigning his post as budget committee chair and voting no.

Christie was joined in opposing the budget by council members Mike Knox, Greg Travis and Michael Kubosh, who said they wanted the mayor to make more of an effort to cut spending.

“I can keep playing politics, go along to get along, or start fighting vigorously for our tax-paying citizens and not waste their money,” Christie said, listing his past ideas for constraining costs or forming commissions to study cost-cutting that were not implemented. “As a political body, we are failing the people of Houston.”

Turner rejected the criticism. He said the budget is “sound,” and noted that Kubosh’s lone amendment would have given each council member an additional $100,000 for staff salaries. Knox submitted no amendments, and Travis submitted amendments that sought cost-cutting recommendations from the administration but listed no specific cuts.

Christie also submitted no cost-reduction amendments, and, in fact, twice admitted one of his items — earmarking $150,000 to fund an external study on the emissions of the city’s vehicle fleet — was “a waste of money” because he already knows a shift to alternative fuels is the right move.

“It’s so easy to just say to the administration, ‘Mayor, you didn’t cut enough,’” Turner said after the meeting. “Every individual that voted ‘no’ put forth no ideas, no amendment to reduce the cost. Not one. Not that they offered it and we voted them down — they didn’t offer any. To the contrary, they put forth amendments that would increase the amount that we were going to have to expend.”

[…]

The general fund budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1 is $2.5 billion. That fund is supported primarily by property and sales taxes and funds most core services, such as the police and fire departments, parks, libraries and trash pickup.

That is $83 million, or 3.5 percent, more than the current budget. The increase largely is driven by a $42 million increase in debt service, related mostly to the issuance last year of $1 billion in pension obligation bonds as part of the mayor’s pension reform package.

Also driving the increase is $14 million in previously-agreed-to raises for police that take effect July 1. About 57 percent of the general fund, or $1.4 billion, goes to public safety — the police and fire departments, the municipal courts and emergency operations.

See here for the background, and here for the Mayor’s press release. The story also notes the $17 million the city may wind up being short thanks to an unfriendly Census estimate and the stupid revenue cap; it’s not clear to me if that would apply to this year or next if the city’s appeal fails. I’m not surprised there were no cost-cutting amendments of any substance. Turns out that’s a hard thing to do, especially in a budget that’s mostly about public safety, trash pickup, parks, and libraries. You know, basic things that people want and need. Good thing talking about it remains free.

January 2018 finance reports: City of Houston

We didn’t have any city of Houston elections in 2017, and while we ought to have some charter amendments on the ballot in 2018 we won’t be voting for people till next year. Still, everyone has to file campaign finance reports. Let’s see how everyone has been doing since last July.


Candidate       Office    Raised      Spent     Loan    On Hand
===============================================================
S Turner         Mayor   308,744    123,288        0  1,901,225

C Brown     Controller     1,400     19,559        0     62,811

M Knox      At Large 1    36,125      8,191        0     51,946
D Robinson  At Large 2    41,575     12,117        0    126,924
M Kubosh    At Large 3     8,575      7,364  276,000     32,267
A Edwards   At Large 4    16,900     24,311        0    140,866
J Christie  At Large 5     1,264      3,892        0     28,711

B Stardig       Dist A     3,750     18,173        0     89,964
J Davis         Dist B     5,934     15,988        0    137,038
E Cohen         Dist C    10,100     31,528        0     41,691
D Boykins       Dist D    27,950     66,249        0     18,492
D Martin        Dist E     2,510     26,887        0     92,371
S Le            Dist F    21,800     11,237   30,823     13,015
G Travis        Dist G    27,050      8,211   76,000     70,817
K Cisneros      Dist H    
R Gallegos      Dist I    32,850     12,963        0     69,181
M Laster        Dist J       300      8,510        0    161,402
L Green         Dist K    29,100     36,617        0     77,110

I started writing this post before the tragic death of CM Larry Green. CM Green was among the members who are term-limited; the others are Stardig, Davis, Cohen, Laster, and Christie. I did not find a finance report for Karla Cisneros; she had $25,336 on hand in the July ’17 report. No one raised a whole lot – not a big surprise, especially given how there was already a bunch of Congressional fundraising going on in the latter half of 2017 – and in fact many people spent more than they took in. If one of the potential negatives to the change to four-year terms was that it gave incumbents that much more time to accumulate cash, I’d say that effect has so far been muted. Among the first-termers, Amanda Edwards was a big money-raiser in 2015 and Greg Travis still has loan money. Mike Knox got a boost in this period, which he will need because he’s got a big target on his back for 2019. Steve Le doesn’t have much on hand, but he too can self-fund to an extent.

While those term-limited candidates continue to be among the top cash-holders, none of them increased their shares during this period. I continue to believe that at least some of them have another candidacy in their near-term future, but that’s just my impression. Some of the possibilities they may contemplate will depend on how the 2018 elections go. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, though. I’m just reporting what we know now. I’ll check back in July. Look for a post on the HISD and HCC reports as soon as I can get around to it.

Council passes dumb forced tax cut

This is where we are.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

City Council rejected Mayor Sylvester Turner’s proposal to leave Houston’s tax rate unchanged from last year Wednesday, instead approving a tiny rate cut to comply with the voter-imposed cap on property tax revenues.

Turner had proposed using Hurricane Harvey to invoke a disaster exception clause in the 13-year-old revenue cap and leave the rate at 58.642 cents per $100 in assessed value. That plan would have let the city collect $7.8 million next year for storm recovery costs in addition to what the cap otherwise would allow, or about $7 next year for the typical homeowner.

It was the same process, Turner stressed, that his administration and former mayor Annise Parker’s administration had followed to collect funding above the revenue cap after floods in each of the last two years – actions that went unnoticed by council members and news media at the time.

The council nonetheless voted 15-2 to approve an amendment from Councilman Mike Knox to lower the rate by 0.221 cents – the rate City Controller Chris Brown had said the revenue cap dictated independent of Harvey-related expenses.

You can read the rest if you want to. I’ve said my piece, and I don’t have anything to add to that. If you need a little more, go read Mayor Turner’s response to Paul Bettencourt, which is exactly what needs to be said to that little toady.

Another property tax rate dustup

I have four things to say about this:

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner plans to ask city council on Wednesday to sidestep the voter-imposed revenue cap by approving the same property tax rate as last year.

According to City Controller Chris Brown, the city would need to cut the property tax rate by about one fifth of one cent to comply with the revenue cap. The difference would mean about $7 next year to the average Houston homeowner, but the potential political damage to Turner could be much more.

Council must set the tax rate at its Wednesday meeting, but no specific rate was listed on the council agenda and no explanatory backup material was provided to council members until Monday night. Several council members, informed of Brown’s Monday afternoon memo outlining the mayor’s plan, responded with an incredulous, “What?”

The information angered the mayor’s critics and confused his allies on the council a week before voters begin heading to the polls to consider a crucial $1 billion bond that would cement Turner’s landmark pension reforms and another $495 million in city improvement bonds.

To comply with the revenue cap, Brown said, the council would need to set the tax rate at 58.421 cents per $100 of assessed value, not leave it at last year’s 58.642 cents. The difference to the city general fund, he estimated, is $7.9 million.

“I’d love to think of it as a misunderstanding,” Councilman David Robinson said. “Conspicuously on the agenda today it was not disclosed, so it certainly raised a lot of questions. Call it, what – $8 million? It sounds like a very small amount to have a standoff about.”

[…]

Turner’s spokesman Alan Bernstein said Monday afternoon that the mayor’s proposal to leave the rate flat did not rely on invoking the disaster declaration language, but hours later acknowledged that clause is the basis for keeping the same rate.

“The mayor clearly said at this meeting, the press conference with the governor and everybody, ‘We are not going to be invoking the disaster clause,'” Brown said late Monday. “So, now they’re saying they’re going to do it. OK, they can do that. My opposition is not if they do it or don’t, my opposition is that they do it and nobody knows about it.”

A Monday evening memo from interim finance director Tantri Emo said the charter not only allows the mayor to invoke the disaster clause to collect an extra $7.9 million for Harvey expenses, but also provides no process by which Brown is required to verify the tax rate. Therefore, Bernstein added, it is not relevant that Brown cannot verify the city’s estimated $1.1 billion in general fund damages from Harvey before federal and insurance reimbursements.

“Since he can’t independently validate them, he’s not counting them,” Bernstein said. “Well, we’re counting them, and we feel like he’s not interpreting this all correctly. We’re certainly not busting the tax cap. The mayor disagrees with the controller’s conclusion.”

1. Let’s get one thing straight up front: This is not in any way an “increase”. This is because leaving something the same as it was before is not an increase, in the same way that my remaining the same height does not mean that I have gotten taller even if for some reason I was supposed to shrink. One of the Council members quoted in the story referred to this as an “increase”, and you can be sure others will echo him. Don’t fall for it.

2. I don’t know what was going on in the Mayor’s office with this, in particular with the peculiar lack of communication followed by the about-face on their rationale, but this was handled badly. They should have been up front about the fact that all their calculations were based on leaving the tax rate the same. Which, let’s be clear, in a sane non-revenue-cap world is exactly what would have happened without anyone even noticing that it was a thing that was happening. Bring it up early on, during the (successful) standoff with Greg Abbott, and there would be nothing more to it by now. Like I said, I don’t know what they were thinking, but this is a mess of their own making, and they need to clean it up.

3. More to the point, this was a missed opportunity to drive home the message that the revenue cap is stupid, harmful policy. If we didn’t have a revenue cap forcing this on us, would anyone have proposed a tax rate cut right now? Can you imagine it: “Hey, let’s make a tiny little cut to the tax rate that will have no effect at all on anyone but will cost the city eight million dollars at a time when we’re up to our necks in hurricane recovery expenses”? It’s stupid policy that forces us to make stupid choices. The revenue cap needs to go.

4. All that said, I think CM Robinson has the right answer. If this were the Lege, as Mayor Turner surely knows, they’d have solved this by delaying payment of an invoice or two from this accounting cycle to the next one, thus making the “deficit” disappear in a puff of magic pixie dust. I have to believe that the city can do something similar if it comes down to it.

Mayor introduces new recycling deal

There’s some stuff to like in this, and there are also questions to be answered.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

The city would send all 65,000 tons of bottles, cans and boxes its citizens recycle each year to a new processing facility to be built in northeast Houston under a 20-year deal Mayor Sylvester Turner will present to City Council next month.

The contract with Spanish firm FCC Environmental, worth up to $57 million, would allow citizens to again put glass in their 96-gallon green bins, along with cardboard, newspaper, steel cans, aluminum and plastic.

Turner, faced with a poor commodities market and rising recycling costs upon entering office last year, negotiated away hard-to-process glass in hammering out a two-year stopgap deal with the city’s current contractor, Waste Management.

Council members raised enough concerns about the new contract’s length and cost and the speed at which it was being considered that Turner canceled a Tuesday committee hearing on the topic minutes before it was to begin and pulled it from Wednesday’s council agenda.

Turner stood firmly behind the deal at a Wednesday news conference, however, saying the proposal would not only return glass to the city’s recycling program but also would require FCC to share in the risk of a crash in the commodities market, ensuring the city never pays more to recycle than it would pay to throw the same materials in a landfill.

“When you take a look at what this offers, let me simply say: state-of-the-art technology, a brand-new facility, including glass, capping the floor of what the city would have to pay should the market turn down,” Turner said. “This is an excellent deal.”

Under the proposed deal, if the revenue generated by selling recycled materials is less than $87.05 per ton, the city would pay FCC the difference, up to a maximum of $25 per ton. If the materials sell for more than $87.05, the city would get a quarter of that excess revenue.

Under the current Waste Management contract, the city’s per-ton processing fee is $92, and there is no cap on the city’s costs. Houston’s per-ton costs have ranged between $20 and $53 per ton under that deal.

Prior to the commodities market crash, the city paid a $65-per-ton processing fee.

The FCC contract also would have the city borrow $2.4 million to add eight new trucks to its aging fleet and repay the loan at a 10 percent interest rate. That is significantly higher than what the city would pay if it borrowed the money itself.

[…]

Councilman Mike Laster, who was to chair the canceled committee hearing on the topic Tuesday, echoed his colleague [CM Jerry Davis].

“There’s still a lot of a lot of questions to be answered,” he said. “That gives me concern, and I look forward to doing all I can to get the best information.”

Texas Campaign for Environment’s Rosanne Barone said the contract’s processing fee and the interest rate on the $2.4 million loan are concerning. A broader worry, she said, is whether the contract leaves the city enough flexibility to capitalize on any improvements in its recycling policies in the future. Her group long has pushed the city to adopt a plan that would help it divert more waste from landfills.

“Using taxpayer money to take out a loan for $2.4 million on eight trucks is not a good use of taxpayers’ money at all,” she said. “But the more important message here is, is this a contract that is going to be functional in the long term?”

That processing fee, which was mentioned several paragraphs after the first section I quoted above and not in any of those paragraphs that discuss current and past processing fees, is $87 per ton. Which is a lot more than the previous deal we had with Waste Management, when they took glass and commodities prices were good, but a bit less than what we’re paying now. Like CM Laster, I’d like to know more before I make any evaluations of this. Having glass included in curbside pickup again is good, and having a price guarantee is good. I don’t quite understand the loan arrangement for buying more trucks, and the length of the contract could be a concern as well. Let’s learn more and see what if any options exist to make changes. The Press has more.

Do we really have to have a pension bond vote?

So as we know, the Houston pension reform bill that passed contains a provision that requires a vote on the pension obligation bonds that Mayor Turner intends to float as a down payment. Pension obligation bonds have been floated in the past, by Mayor White, without a vote, but for whatever the reason some members of the Senate insisted on it, so here we are. Now it turns out that with interest rates likely to increase later in the year, waiting till after a vote in November to float the bonds will cost the city millions in extra payments. You would think the responsible thing to do would be to float them now while it’s less expensive, and so Mayor Turner has suggested that as a possibility.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner did not rule out Wednesday issuing the $1 billion in bonds that are central to his pension reform deal without a public referendum, a move that would sidestep a hotly debated requirement the Legislature added to ensure passage of the city-negotiated plan.

Turner said he and his staff are proceeding as though there will be a referendum, but the mayor said he may seek to issue the bonds without a vote if he can gain consensus among City Council members, state lawmakers and others that moving more quickly would benefit the city.

Specifically, he referenced the benefit of preempting an anticipated jump in interest rates. Waiting six to nine months to issue the bonds, the city finance department estimates, could cost taxpayers $135 million to $273 million more over the life of the debt.

“I find it highly unlikely that anything is going to take place other than the vote in November, and that’s how we’re proceeding,” Turner said. “If we can all agree on a certain course and it may be able to expedite things, then we’ll do that.

“I’m talking about agreement with everybody. We’ve come this far with everybody, both on the local levels as well as on the state level and my approach is to always move in collaboration with everyone. But if not, then we’ll proceed with the vote.”

[…]

Though much of the rhetoric surrounding the bill during legislative debates referenced that voters would have a chance to weigh in, the mayor’s team simply points to the text of the legislation as proof that they can proceed without a vote.

Current state law requires only that City Council enter into agreements with the pension funds that are to receive the bond proceeds – in this case, the police and municipal workers’ pension funds – in order to issue the bonds. The reform legislation adds the referendum requirement, but also states that the referendum provision applies only to those agreements signed on or after the effective date of the bill, which is July 1.

Turner plans to bring those agreements to council June 21, city officials said. Though adopting them would in no way obligate the city to issue the bonds without a vote, doing so would preserve that option.

Now you’d think the prospect of saving a couple hundred million bucks would appeal to pretty much everyone, but at the mere mention of this, several self-styled fiscal conservatives immediately contracted the vapors – seriously, CM Mike Knox walked out of the committee hearing upon being presented with this – so that would seem to scuttle the “if everyone is on the same page” possibility. And indeed, Mayor Turner has now walked back the idea and reassured everyone that we will indeed have a referendum, whatever the eventual cost may be. I get that not having a vote when everyone thought there was going to be a vote seems bait-and-switch-y, but 1) having a vote was not a requirement until people like Paul Bettencourt made it a requirement, and 2) interest rates are gonna go up, so it’s going to be more expensive to wait. But a deal’s a deal, so here we are. Hope everyone’s happy.

Bike plan vote delayed

What’s another two weeks?

Houston’s long-term plan for improving bicycle routes around town will wait a couple more weeks after a handful of elected officials voiced various concerns.

City Council members Greg Travis, Michael Kubosh, Steve Le, Mike Knox and Dave Martin tagged the proposed Houston Bike Plan on Wednesday morning, delaying its approval for at least two weeks.

The plan, which doesn’t commit money but does guide future projects as the city proceeds with road work, lays out an ambitious plan for hundreds of miles of high-comfort bike lanes in Houston, meant to make bicycling safer and more appealing to residents.

Work on the plan began roughly 18 months ago and has been through various drafts with input from city and community officials.

See here for some background, and here for the plan itself. If you’d like a more executive-summary view of it, see this Offcite post from last year, and this Kinder Institute blog post from Wednesday. At some point, part of the solution for traffic has to be getting some cars off the road, and the best way to do that is to give more people more non-car options for their daily travels. Note that you don’t need someone to completely give up their car to have an effect here – trading in some of your car trips for non-car travel helps, too. Let’s get this done, y’all. The Chron editorial board agrees with me on this.

A look ahead to Houston’s 2017 elections

I want to return to something in that story about Mayor Turner’s 2017 agenda, which was near the bottom but which is a very big deal for the coming year:

A lawsuit over the ballot language used last year to extend terms to a maximum of two four-year terms, from three two-year terms, hovers in the background.

A state district judge ruled in March that the language was “inartful” but legal, and the case now is under appeal.

At stake in the near term is whether Turner and members of City Council must run for re-election in 2017 or wait until 2019.

See here for the background. Usually around this time I’m writing about the upcoming election year and what we have to look forward to. Thanks to this lawsuit, we could have a year with no city elections, or a year in which nobody knows we have city elections until April or May and everyone operates on an insanely accelerated schedule from there. With that in mind, let’s look at our Year of Elections 2017 with a frame of The Elections We Will Have, The Elections We May Have, and The Elections We Could Have.

The Elections We Will Have

Whatever else happens with the term limits lawsuit, there will be elections in HISD and HCC. The following trustees for each board are up for election this year:

HISD – Anna Eastman (District I), Mike Lunceford (District V), Greg Meyers (District VI), Anne Sung (District VII), Wanda Adams (District IX)
HCC – Carolyn Evans-Shabazz (District 4), Robert Glaser (District 5), Chris Oliver (District 9)

Mike Lunceford is not running for re-election, so his seat will be open. Greg Meyers has already submitted his resignation, and a replacement Trustee will be selected by the Board in January. It is not clear if the Board will prefer a caretaker who will not run for election in November or if the new member will try to stake a claim. Anne Sung of course won the special election to succeed Harvin Moore a couple of weeks ago. Whatever happens in November, the Board will have three different members in the traditionally Republican districts than it had at the start of 2016. That has some negative potential, as all three were devoted to public schools in a way that is not necessarily characteristic of modern Republicans, meaning that whoever wins in November could be more antagonistic than what we are used to seeing. We’ll have a better idea when we know who is selected to replace Meyers, and who emerges to run for these seats. As for Eastman, she is my Trustee and as far as I know she is in for another term, but I haven’t spoken to her in the last few weeks, and she has not made any formal announcements. I’m not aware of any reason why Adams would not run for another term.

In HCC, both Shabazz-Evans and Glaser won elections to complete the unexpired terms for trustees who had resigned following their 2011 campaigns. Evans-Shabazz was appointed to replace Carroll Robinson in District 4 in May of 2015, and then was unopposed for election. Glaser won a contested race to succeed Richard Schechter in 2013; appointed replacement Leila Feldman did not run for the seat. Oliver is a multi-term incumbent who easily defeated a challenger in 2011. Sometimes there are interesting things to say or look forward to in these races. This is not one of those times.

There will also be some number of constitutional amendments on the ballot in November, but we won’t know what they are until May or so when the Legislature finishes its business. If the term limits lawsuit goes down, preserving the new four-year terms for city officeholders, these referenda will be the only guaranteed items on your ballot this year.

The most interesting race in the area that is not in Houston will be in Pasadena, where Mayor Johnny Isbell is term-limited out and where the City Council lines may or may not be redrawn, pending the ruling in the voting rights lawsuit that is currently in the judge’s hands. That election will be in May. Other area cities such as Bellaire, West U, Sugar Land, and Rosenberg, also have elections in May. I hope to have some more information about some of these races in a subsequent post. Also of interest in May will be the San Antonio elections, where Mayor Ivy Taylor has some competition for a second full term. I’m sure I’ll do some writing about that as well.

The Elections We May Have

In addition to the statewide ballot propositions, there are two local ones that could be on your November eSlate machine, both of which could be quite contentious. Mayor Turner has stated his intention to put a referendum about the revenue cap on the ballot this year, though one presumes that could change if his pension reform bills do not pass. You can be sure that the opposition to this, mostly from the likes of Paul Bettencourt and no doubt with the help of the statewide Republican cabal, will be ferocious and very well-funded. Which in a way will be good for Mayor Turner, because if he can successfully cast this as a partisan issue, especially a “statewide Republicans meddling in our business AGAIN” issue, he ought to at least begin with the larger share of the vote. Getting those people to vote, whether or not there are other city elections to draw them out, will be the challenge. I suspect Mayor Turner doesn’t do anything without planning out how it will go, so I sure hope he has a plan for this one.

The other possible ballot item we might have is an updated Metro Solutions plan, which may include more rail construction projects, possibly including another shot at the Universities Line. This has been floated as an option by Metro Chair Carrin Patman, but it is not yet clear that it would be on the ballot, and if it would be there this year if so, and it is not yet clear what the scope of it would be. Needless to say, any rail component would generate some opposition, with a new Universities Line plan bringing out the usual suspects, some of whom would already be fully engaged in a revenue cap fight. It’s an interesting question whether you’d rather have this item on the ballot by itself, or in the same space as a revenue cap item. I’m glad that’s not my call to make.

The Elections We Could Have

This is the one that is entirely contingent on the Supreme Court, which as we know has not hesitated to stick its collective nose in our electoral business. If the 2015 term limits referendum is thrown out for having insufficiently clear wording, then the people who will be the most affected are the Council members who are in their last terms: Brenda Stardig, Jerry Davis, Ellen Cohen, Mike Laster, Larry Green, and Jack Christie. Cohen’s District C and Laster’s District J represent challenges for Democrats, as Bill King carried both districts in the 2015 Mayoral runoff. The ideal District C candidate is in the Anne Clutterbuck-Ellen Cohen spectrum, while the low turnout District J will always be a bit of a wild card. Against that, Dems will have opportunities in both Christie’s At Large #5 and first-term CM Mike Knox’s AL #1, though as we have discussed before, cattle call races with lots of similarly-profiled Democrats have benefited Republican citywide candidates in the recent past. The ideal here is for a candidate who begins with a lot of backing to get in and largely hoover up all the support – think Melissa Noriega in 2007, or Amanda Edwards in 2015.

I don’t want to spend too much time on this, as it’s even more speculative than usual, but I do want to at least put a marker on it, since if these elections do happen they may happen all at once, with little warning and not much time to prepare. I’ll be keeping an eye on this, and will be ready for either a busier or more relaxed interview season this fall.

Council ratifies Turner’s pension plan

From the inbox:

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner

On a 16-1 vote, Houston City Council has endorsed Mayor Sylvester Turner’s historic package of pension reforms. The vote clears the way for the City to move forward in partnership with the pension systems to seek legislative approval of the reforms.

“I am bubbling over on the inside,” said Mayor Turner. “I am thankful to everyone who has helped get us to this point. That includes City Council, the pension systems, our City employees and many others. This plan is historic, transformative and budget neutral. We are solving our pension problem permanent and we are doing it without needed a tax rate increase. There is no other plan out there offering the same benefits. The Houston solution can be the model for other cities with similar challenges.”

The police, fire and municipal pension systems all signed off on the package of reforms prior to today’s City Council vote, marking the first time that the City and all of the pension groups have been united.

The plan immediately reduces the City’s nearly $8 billion pension debt by over 30 percent and then sets a 30-year fixed payoff schedule for the remaining $5.3 billion of debt. This immediate reduction is accomplished through a combination of benefits changes that include scaling back cost-of-living adjustments, higher employee payroll contributions and phasing out of the Deferred Retirement Option Program, known as DROP, which allows employees to accept retirement benefits while continuing to work for the City. In return for the concessions, the City has agreed to issue $1 billion in Pension Obligation Bonds to make up for years of prior underfunding of the pension systems.

“It is a big deal that employees have agreed to these benefit changes,” said Turner. “I know this has not been easy, and I thank each of them for their patience, understanding and service. This plan will provide stable and sustainable retirements at an affordable cost to the taxpayers who foot the bill. Retirees won’t have to worry if the check will be there.”

Moving forward, predictions about the anticipated performance of pension system investments will be based on a more conservative seven percent assumed rate of return. If there are market changes that cause costs to exceed pre-agreed limits, there is a mechanism to force additional changes in benefits to bring everything back in line. A requirement that both sides share information will ensure compliance with the required 30-year payoff schedule.

State Senator Joan Huffman and State Representative Dan Flynn are expected to carry the Houston pension legislation. Bill filing for the 2017 legislative session begins mid-November 2016.

See here and here for the background. CM Mike Knox was the lone No vote, saying he couldn’t support it without there already being a bill written. The Chron story fills in a few details.

Turner secured the political chip of a prompt and lopsided endorsement by using an impassioned speech to persuade Councilman Michael Kubosh to remove his “tag,” a parliamentary maneuver that would have delayed the vote. Kubosh had said he initially tagged the measure at the request state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, a Houston Republican who has called for a delay until more information was available on the reform plan.

“Either you all are going to represent the people of the city of Houston or – I’m going to borrow your term Councilmember Kubosh – are you going to represent political interests? I stand with the people of the city of Houston,” Turner said. “I was voted (in) to represent their interests, not some party affiliation or some political interest or somebody who wants to be mayor.”

Turner’s comments plainly were directed at Bill King, who was runner-up in last year’s mayoral race and who joined Bettencourt at his news conference. The duo said the detailed reform proposals were public for too short a time and too vague to be properly vetted, particularly a key “corridor” provision that would force benefit cuts in the future if a market downturn led the city’s payments to increase above a specified threshold.

King and Bettencourt say the city should switch new hires to retirement savings plans similar to 401(k)s, but acknowledged a well-written “corridor” provision could offer the same benefits to the city.

[…]

Most council members, however, referenced the briefings they had received on the plan and echoed Turner’s point that no public speaker in the six weeks since the reform outline was first announced had appeared before City Council to criticize it.

“I want to make sure the public understands we have been briefed, and it wasn’t a 24-hour-ago briefing,” Councilwoman Brenda Stardig said.

Councilman Dave Martin, like Stardig, a conservative, offered even stronger comments.

“I did not vote for you. I did not support you. I’m supporting you 100 percent on this,” Martin told Turner. “I think it’s ridiculous for people to criticize this plan. It’s been transparent; it’s been thorough. We’ve been diligent. We don’t need any more information. Maybe the state does, but do your homework.”

Yeah. Just as a reminder, the Kinder Institute has analyzed the plan, so we are not operating in an information vacuum here. I’m sure if Sen. Bettencourt had called the Mayor’s office and asked for a briefing, he’d have gotten it. But it’s easier to preen than it is to prep, so here we are. My guess is we’ll see bills get pre-filed for this, probably in November, so we’ll know soon enough what that will look like. The next question is who will support it and who will try to kill it. The games have just begun.

Turner’s Council

So what kind of City Council will Mayor-elect Sylvester Turner have to work with?

Sylvester Turner

Sylvester Turner

In addition to Turner replacing term-limited Mayor Annise Parker, the council also will gain five new faces, four thanks to term limits and one who defeated an incumbent. Political analysts, however, sensed little ideological shift among the 16-member body.

How city government will function or fail to do so, observers say, thus circles back to Turner. With a looming $126 million budget deficit to close by June, the 26-year Texas House veteran will be tested quickly.

“Having a career legislator lead the council is likely to have a significant change in how the city operates,” said Mustafa Tameez, a Houston political consultant. “He’s likely to lean on his experience and run the council as a legislative chamber versus, in the past, other mayors saw it as an executive office and the council may have been a nuisance.”

[…]

If the political tilt of the council shifted with Saturday’s results, analysts said, it may have been slightly to the right. Conservative former policeman Mike Knox will replace moderate Steve Costello in the At-Large 1 seat; physician Steve Le, who opposed the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance, ousted District F incumbent Richard Nguyen, who voted for it. As a counterbalance, the analysts said, municipal finance lawyer Amanda Edwards’ replacement of C.O. Bradford in the At-Large 4 race is a shift to the left.

In conservative District G, where lawyer Greg Travis replaces Oliver Pennington, and in progressive-leaning District H, where educator Karla Cisneros replaces Ed Gonzalez, observers saw little ideological change.

Observers guessed the general split to be roughly 10 to 11 progressive votes and six to seven conservative ones, depending on the issue, though council members are known to invoke the adage that there is no Republican or Democratic way to fill a pothole.

The new council will have four years to work out the kinks, thanks to voters, who approved a move from a maximum of three two-year terms of office to two four-year terms on Nov. 3.

That change, coupled with the loss of rules banning campaign fundraising during certain months – known as a blackout period – will bring the biggest changes to City Hall, Tameez said.

Let me start by saying I completely agree with Tameez here. I believe the change to four-year terms is going to have a big effect on how our municipal government operates and how our elections are conducted. I have no idea what those changes will look like, and neither does anyone else. It’s just going to be different, and we won’t begin to understand how until four years from now.

As for the makeup of Council, again I basically agree with what’s being said here. Mike Knox is to the right of Steve Costello, but I’d argue Amanda Edwards is to the left of C.O. Bradford. Losing Richard Nguyen hurts, but District F has always operated as a Republican-friendly district. Nguyen only declared himself to be a Democrat in 2014 – he was a political enigma when he was elected. It’s a loss, but we were playing with house money.

And to a large extent, none of that matters very much anyway. The Mayor still sets the agenda, and as long as the Mayor can get nine votes for whatever is on that agenda, it gets enacted. It will be interesting to see if Turner, a master of dealmaking and getting things done in a hostile environment, adopts a collaborative Lege-like approach to Mayoring (*), as that would be a great departure from every other Mayor in my memory, or if he exercises the power of the office like all his predecessors have done. Usually there’s at least one Council member who acts as a foil to the Mayor; of the holdover Members, Michael Kubosh and Dave Martin were the main antagonists to Mayor Parker. Will one or both of them maintain that role with Mayor Turner, or will someone else pick up the baton? The next budget gets adopted in June, so we ought to have some idea soon enough. Feel free to speculate on these topics in the comments.

(*) If “Presidenting” can be a word, then so can “Mayoring”.

Precinct analysis: At Large #1 runoff

Let’s move on to the At Large races. Here’s how the vote went in At Large #1:


Dist    Knox  Provost
=====================
A      8,758    4,042
B      2,518   13,058
C     14,925   12,240
D      3,692   16,877
E     16,406    4,735
F      4,040    2,871
G     21,391    6,190
H      3,684    5,080
I      3,272    4,340
J      3,029    2,182
K      5,442    9,846
		
A     68.42%   31.58%
B     16.17%   83.83%
C     54.94%   45.06%
D     17.95%   82.05%
E     77.60%   22.40%
F     58.46%   41.54%
G     77.56%   22.44%
H     42.04%   57.96%
I     42.98%   57.02%
J     58.13%   41.87%
Mike Knox

Mike Knox

I suggested before that undervoting might be the key to understanding some of these results. I mean, obviously if everyone who supported Turner also supported other Democrats like Georgia Provost, these downballot candidates would win as well. That never happens, of course – undervoting in At Large races usually exceeds 20% of the total. Given that, the first question to ask is which Mayoral voters kept going down the ballot, and which were one and done? There’s also the fact that not everyone votes uniformly in these races. Some candidates are better known than others, some have appeal that others don’t, and so on.

Both of those factors are in play here. Mike Knox still got beaten badly in Districts B and D, but in each case he exceeded Bill King’s vote totals. I don’t know what the profile of a voter that supported both Sylvester Turner and Mike Knox might look like, but those folks clearly existed.

I can even quantify that to some extent. In my canvass spreadsheet, I subtracted Knox’s total for each precinct from King’s, and Provost’s from Turner’s, then sorted each column in turn to see what the differences looked like:

For Provost, there were 32 precincts in which she had more votes than Turner, for a net gain of 225. For Knox, there were 207 precincts in which he had more votes than King, for a net gain of 3,026.

On the flip side, for Provost there were 568 precincts in which she had fewer votes than Turner, for a net loss of 23,357. For Knox, 383 precincts in which he had fewer votes than King, for a net loss of 19,796.

Put that all together, and Knox had more crossover support, while holding on to more of King’s voters. I’ll be honest, I might have expected the latter, but not the former. I can only speculate about that, and the first thing that comes to my mind is that Provost wasn’t as well known as Knox was. He had more of a campaign, as well as some establishment support, for the November election, while Provost didn’t really have a campaign before the runoff and didn’t have much attention paid to her till then. That’s my guess, and yours is as good as mine. What did you think of this race?

Is Bill King a sign of a trend?

Probably not. Doesn’t mean that other candidates like him can’t do well, however.

Bill King

Bill King

Bill King’s near-upset over Sylvester Turner in the Houston mayoral runoff stoked the hopes of some Republicans that the party soon could break Democrats’ 34-year hold on City Hall.

Political experts, however, attributed King’s success more to his unique profile as a moderate fiscal conservative than a Republican resurgence in the Bayou City.

“King pretty skillfully positioned himself. He didn’t run as a Republican but happily accepted the support of Republicans,” University of Houston political scientist Richard Murray said. “You might get elected with support from Republicans, but that’s not enough to win unless the turnout is extremely skewed.”

Murray estimated Republicans make up about 35 to 40 percent of the city electorate, just 21 percent of whom cast a ballot in last Saturday’s runoff election to replace term-limited Mayor Annise Parker.

[…]

Kingwood Tea Party co-founder Jim Lennon said King’s bid instilled new confidence in Houston Republicans.

“With the results of this race being so close, I think there’s a change in attitude,” Lennon said. “We know we can win. We know we can put together a coalition.”

Nonetheless, Lennon acknowledged that the former Kemah mayor’s bid may be difficult to replicate.

“I don’t think there’s a deep bench of Republican politicians that can duplicate that,” Lennon said.

As you know, I largely agree. King was a decent candidate who took advantage of the opportunities he had and ran a good campaign. He was also lucky – again, I don’t think we’d be having this conversation if Oliver Pennington had not dropped out of the race. I think we’d be talking about why Adrian Garcia fell short against Turner in the runoff. That’s the way it goes, and every successful politician, like every championship sports team, gets a bit of luck here and there.

Republicans may not be able to win a Mayor’s race in Houston, but they’ve done a lot better in At Large Council races. Steve Costello, Jack Christie, Michael Kubosh, and now Mike Knox have all won citywide since 2009. Of course, the first three all won with the support of a significant number of Democratic voters – Costello (who basically profiled and governed as a moderate Dem) and Christie have done well with Anglo Dems, while Kubosh has solid support among African-American voters stemming from his previous work on the red light camera referendum. Only Knox won based on Republican votes, and that comes with a bit of an asterisk, given how low profile his runoff election was. The real test will be in 2019, when Christie is termed out and Knox will have to run without the backdrop of a King candidacy. If the Dems could unite on a single candidate against Knox (I know, I know) then that person ought to be favored. But let’s worry about that later, like maybe after the current electeds get sworn in and figure out where their offices are.

Finally, however swell the GOP establishment may feel about their near-miss with Bill King, it should be noted that they also had a good chance to win the Controller’s office as well, but missed that by a wider mark. Bill Frazer was a well-qualified candidate who was much more clearly identified with the Republican Party and who was as focused on pensions and fiscal matters as King. He was also Chron-endorsed and led the field in November after running a strong race in 2013, yet he wound up more than 10,000 votes behind Chris Brown (remember to add in the Fort Bend votes when you tally it all up). Brown had a bit of a financial edge, he had a bunch of ads running on cable TV, and he definitely made this a D-versus-R race. At a guess, I’d say that he had the support of a lot of Anglo Dems who had gone with King. All of which is a longwinded way of saying what Jim Lennon said: It’s hard for them to duplicate what King did.

Other runoff results

Here are the rest of the winners from yesterday:

Controller: Chris Brown

At Large #1: Mike Knox

At Large #2: CM David Robinson

At Large #4: Amanda Edwards

At Large #5: CM Jack Christie

District F: Steve Le

District H: Karla Cisneros

District J: CM Mike Laster

HISD II: Rhonda Skillern-Jones

HISD III: Manuel Rodriguez

Here are the Chron stories for the Council/Controller and HISD races. A couple of stray thoughts:

– Chris Brown and David Robinson are to me the big winners of the make-it-partisan strategy that was employed. I was especially worried about Robinson, because an elevated level of African-American turnout would not necessarily favor him. But both won Harris County, by larger margins than Turner (15,000 votes for Robinson, 9,000 for Brown), and both won Fort Bend, so I have to think that the message about who was the Democrat got through.

– That said, I strongly suspect that undervoting was a key in these races, and also in the AL1 race. Brown won early voting by about the same margin as Turner did, but then also won on Election Day. Robinson led early voting by a smaller margin than Turner, mostly on the strength of absentee ballots. He then dominated Election Day. On the flipside, Georgia Provost trailed in early voting, losing in absentee ballots while barely leading the in person early vote. Basically, she collected 10,000 fewer in person early votes than Turner did, while Mike Knox lost only 5,000 votes off of King’s total. This is something I plan to look into more closely when I get the precinct data.

– A lot was made before the election about King leading the vote in District C. It was a small lead, and a lot of District C voters went for Adrian Garcia, Steve Costello, and Chris Bell. If I had to guess right now, I’d say Turner won District C, but other races may be all over the place. King clearly got some crossovers, almost surely more than Turner did, but how many will be hard to tell. I really think the undervotes will tell a big part of the story.

– I’m sad to see CM Richard Nguyen lose, but I can’t say I’m surprised. Again, I’ll be interested to see what the precinct data says. After the Mayor’s race, this one had the lowest undervote rate, at 8.77%.

– Amanda Edwards’ and Karla Cisneros’ wins means that Council will have four women but only one Latino. I’m guessing that’s going to cause some angst.

– Here’s my guess at a whip count if and when another HERO comes up:

Likely Yeses – Robinson, Edwards, Davis, Cohen, Cisneros, Gallegos, Laster, Green

Likely Nos – Knox, Kubosh, Stardig, Martin, Le, Travis

Voted No originally, but maybe could be swung – Christie, Boykins

Counting Mayor Turner, a worst case vote would likely be 9-7 in favor. It would be nice to focus some effort on Christie and Boykins and maybe get that to 10-6 or 11-5. It’s a small thing, but I’d hate to give the other side the talking point that HERO 2.0 was less popular on Council than the original was. If it’s not possible to move that needle, then aiming to take a couple of seats to make up the difference and trying again after 2019 might be the best course of action. Christie’s term will be up, while Mike Knox and Steve Le could be targeted. By the same token, Jerry Davis, Ellen Cohen, and Mike Laster will also be termed out, and those seats would need to be defended, so this strategy has some risk as well. I’m just thinking out loud here. Point being, it’s never too early to start thinking about this sort of thing.

Anyway. Congratulations to all the winners. May you all fulfill your promises to make Houston a better place.

Overview of the open Council seat runoffs

Kind of late in the cycle given the number of lesser known candidates in these races, and not nearly complete, but here it is anyway.

Amanda Edwards

Amanda Edwards

In addition to the first open mayor’s race in six years, Houstonians can expect to see at least four new faces on City Council next year – three of which will come from contests to be decided in Saturday’s runoff election.

In the At-Large 1 race, former police officer Mike Knox faces photographer and philanthropist Georgia Provost.

[…]

In the At-Large 4 race, municipal finance lawyer Amanda Edwards faces former Harris County Department of Education trustee Roy Morales.

Edwards, who has served on nonprofit boards such as Project Row Houses, worked in the Georgia Legislature while in college, then for U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, before heading to Harvard Law School.

City Council must better articulate Houston’s goals, she said, so it does not work at cross purposes by retaining what she views as suburban parking rules, for instance, in areas primed for the sort of density that would enable bicycling and walking.

She said voters must be asked to modify a decade-old cap on city property tax collections at least to protect public safety spending, and rising pension costs also must be addressed.

“I can’t think of more complicated, pressing issues than some of the ones we face right now,” she said.

[…]

The race to replace term-limited Ed Gonzalez in largely Latino District H pits elementary school teacher Karla Cisneros against HPD community service officer Jason Cisneroz.

Cisneroz, an Army veteran, worked at City Hall as a staffer for Gonzalez and former Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia. Cisneroz said he believes a staffing shortage at HPD can be resolved, in part, by more effectively coordinating calls for service with other law enforcement agencies.

Cisneroz has emphasized the economic disparities in District H. Corralling stray dogs and catching illegal dumpers, he said, also would be top priorities. He also called for an independent “developer integrity unit” to make sure new projects do not adversely affect roads and drainage in the area.

“People talk about inequality all the time,” Cisneroz said. “I’m living it every day.”

Cisneros, too, has focused much of her campaign on inequality in the district, pointing to her experiences teaching elementary school on both sides of Interstate 45. The former Houston school trustee said many of the city’s tax increment reinvestment zones, which keep some property tax revenues within their boundaries for public improvements, have “institutionalized inequality.” Cinseros said she would work to limit the expansion of these zones and to disband others.

Not very conducive to excerpting, so read it all yourself. If there isn’t a story in today’s paper about the At Large #2 and #5 runoffs, I’ll be very disappointed. I mean, we could have a very different Council next year, with a ton of new faces, and yet I’d bet most of the voters who will cast a ballot today couldn’t name more than one or two of the eight At Large candidates off the top of their heads. I expect the undervote rates to be pretty high – not as high as they were in November, but in excess of 20% per race. We’ll see.

The Forward Times points out another notable aspect of today’s races.

This election is not like any other in Houston’s rich history.

After the November election, Council Members Jerry Davis (District B), Dwight Boykins (District D) and Larry Green (District K) were all re-elected to council. With Council Member C.O. “Brad” Bradford being term-limited, that reduces the number of African American council members to three. As a result of the general election results, however, Houstonians now have an opportunity to vote to have seven African Americans serving on Houston City Council at the same time, by voting for candidates in four At-Large city council races.

In the At-large Position 1 race, entrepreneur Georgia Provost faces Mike Knox; in the At-Large Position 2 race, Rev. Willie R. Davis squares off against incumbent David Robinson; in the At-Large Position 4 race being vacated by term-limited C.O. “Brad” Bradford, attorney Amanda Edwards faces Roy Morales; and in the At-Large Position 5 race, Sharon Moses faces incumbent Jack Christie, who defeated two-term incumbent Jolanda Jones, who fell short in her quest to complete her final term.

Not only would there be seven African Americans serving on Houston City Council, but in the race to replace outgoing Mayor Annise Parker as mayor of the city of Houston, Sylvester Turner also has a chance to be the 2nd African American mayor in Houston’s history. That would make a total of eight African Americans around the horseshoe at Houston City Council.

Some of those eight are better than others, obviously, but no question we could have a historic result. The story notes that we could have had six elected African Americans in 2011, but fell short when Jolanda Jones was defeated. Provost and Moses also have the chance to be the first African American women on Council since Wanda Adams’ departure in 2013. It will be interesting to see whatever happens.

2015 eight day runoff finance reports

BagOfMoney

Here are the reports, for all but one of the runoff candidates:

Mayor

Sylvester Turner
Bill King

Controller

Chris Brown
Bill Frazer

At Large #1

Georgia Provost
Mike Knox

At Large #2

David Robinson
Willie David

At Large #4

Amanda Edwards
Roy Morales

At Large #5

Jack Christie
Sharon Moses

District F

Richard Nguyen
Steve Le – No report as yet

District H

Karla Cisneros
Jason Cisneroz

District J

Mike Laster
Jim Bigham

And here’s a summary of what’s in them:


Candidate   Office     Raised      Spent    Loans    On Hand
============================================================
Turner       Mayor  2,119,881  1,888,604        0    557,933
King         Mayor  1,381,193  1,272,967  650,000    331,134

Brown   Controller    198,596    197,552   30,000     16,489
Frazer  Controller    138,040    164,769   32,500     49,606

Provost      AL #1     25,350     23,511        0      1,789
Knox         AL #1     28,750     56,589        0          0

Robinson     AL #2     91,121     81,423        0     85,702
Davis        AL #2     26,610     16,343    3,000      2,979

Edwards      AL #4    189,569    151,624      500     75,707
Morales      AL #4     23,900     25,934    5,838        465

Christie     AL #5     73,502     79,098        0     29,456
Moses        AL #5      5,300      4,788        0        512

Nguyen      Dist F     52,630     56,759        0     43,752
Le          Dist F

K Cisneros  Dist H     23,725     24,606        0      5,770
J Cisneroz  Dist H     72,140     67,275        0     13,686

Laster      Dist J     62,421     18,558        0    184,415
Bigham      Dist J      1,700      5,421        0      4,936

Here’s the Chron story on the Mayoral fundraising, the short version of which is “lots raised, lots spent”. For all that spending, I haven’t seen many TV ads – one for Bill King, a couple that attacked Bill King, and that’s about it. I have gotten some mail from Turner, and I’ve seen a bunch of Turner web ads. I’m sure they’re both on the radio, too. I’ve also seen a few ads for Chris Brown, and for Amanda Edwards.

Edwards has truly been an impressive fundraiser – not many Council candidates have the wherewithal to run TV ads, and in a race where making sure people have some idea who you are is job #1, that’s a big deal. David Robinson is next in line, though I do wonder why hasn’t spent a bit more than he has. (I could say the same about Mike Laster, but he has far fewer voters to connect with, and arguably more justification for being on cruise control.) Jack Christie has a lower number than I would have expected – I’m not sure if he’s not sweating it, or if this is a sign of trouble for him that hadn’t been apparent before now.

None of the other candidates have raised much, though Knox didn’t do too badly before the November election. Provost, Davis, Morales, and Moses – none of them has had much, yet at least three of them (sorry, Roy) have a decent shot at being elected. Those of you who think there’s too much money in politics, this is what an alternate universe looks like. Or if you prefer, those of you who think that fundraising totals are the primary indicator of electoral viability, these are your counterexamples. Make of it what you will.

Runoff endorsement watch: New business

As I mentioned before, there are a couple of runoffs in which the Chron did not endorse a candidate who is still in the running. Those races are At Large #1, #4, and #5; I had forgotten about #4 when I recounted that. The Chron has now made their choices, while restating their preference in the other race.

Georgia Provost

Georgia Provost

At-Large 1: Georgia Provost

The runoff to succeed term-limited Councilman Steve Costello is a study in contrasts. Mike Knox, who led a crowded field in the general election with about 25 percent of the vote, is a former Houston police officer and the author of a book on gang and youth violence. His focus is on bringing the city budget under control by instituting what he calls “a confirmed revenue stream budget.”

His opponent, Georgia Provost, is a photographer and owner of a photography studio and public relations firm. A longtime community activist in the Third and Fifth wards, she is a fund-raiser for various charitable organizations supporting youth and law enforcement, a leader with the Texas Metropolitan Organization and executive director of the Texas Southern University Bayou Bend Alumni/Ex-Students Association Inc. This is the second council race for both candidates.

Knox is articulate and knowledgeable about the issues, but Provost brings grass-roots awareness and years of experience helping solve problems in her community. We believe those are qualifications that will prove valuable on the council. We’re confident she will speak up for Houstonians too often ignored by city government. We endorse Provost.

[…]

Amanda Edwards

Amanda Edwards

At-Large 4: Amanda Edwards

Candidates often like to run as symbols of a greater issue: the conservative candidate, the community representative, the education wonk. In this race to replace term-limited Councilman C.O. Bradford, Amanda Edwards has become a sign of Houston’s future – hard-working, engaged and passionate.

A municipal finance lawyer with Bracewell and Giuliani, Edwards has more on-the-ground experience than plenty of politicians twice her age (she’s 33). A graduate of Harvard Law School, she has spent years working for community development corporations and nonprofits across the country, from Atlanta (where she served as student body president at Emory University) to New Orleans (where she moved after Hurricane Katrina).

[…]

Jack Christie

Jack Christie

At-Large 5: Jack Christie

For the past four years, Jack Christie has proven to be one of the most confounding members on City Council. He’s collaborative, soft-spoken and effective at working behind the scenes. He’s also expressed a personal opposition to vaccinations and water fluoridation.

Still, to this day, you can count on one hand the number of times that Christie has raised these issues at City Council. There are also plenty of times when the incumbent proved himself to be a well-prepared workhorse.

Christie faces a challenge from Sharon Moses, a former City Council staffer. When she met with the Houston Chronicle editorial board, Moses said she wasn’t running to oust the incumbent. If there’s no reason to boot him from office, voters should re-elect Christie.

The Chron re-endorsed David Robinson in AL2. Edwards was an obvious choice – frankly, she is who they should have endorsed in the first place. Far as I know, they have never endorsed Roy Morales in any of the races he has been in; they were pretty dismissive of him when they endorsed Michael Kubosh over him in the 2013 AL3 runoff.

Both of the other two could have gone either way. The Chron had said some nice things about Knox when they endorsed Tom McCasland in Round One. They didn’t mention Provost at all in that, though they had some kind words for her in their 2013 District D runoff endorsement. I approve of this choice, and I’m guessing they overlooked Provost in November because she wasn’t running much of a campaign at that time. As for Christie, he has been endorsed twice by the Chron before, just not this year. They weren’t necessarily disenchanted with him, I think they just liked Philippe Nassif more. I’m sure they considered Sharon Moses, but for better or worse, in this case they were happy enough to come back to him.

A roundup of interviews with runoff candidates

vote-button

For your convenience, as you try to decide whom to support in the runoffs:

Mayor

Sylvester Turner
Bill King

Controller

Chris Brown
Bill Frazer

At Large #1

Georgia Provost – 2013 election, District D
Mike Knox – 2013 election, District A

At Large #2

David Robinson
Willie Davis – No interview

At Large #4

Amanda Edwards
Roy Morales – 2013 election, At Large #3

At Large #5

Jack Christie
Sharon Moses

District F

Richard Nguyen
Steve Le

District H

Karla Cisneros
Jason Cisneroz

District J

Mike Laster
Jim Bigham

HISD District II

Rhonda Skillern-Jones
Larry Williams – No interview

HISD District III

Manuel Rodriguez – 2011 election
Jose Leal – No interview

Notice that for many of these candidates, there were interviews or Q&As published elsewhere that you may find useful (and that you can read instead of listening to). I’ve got links to them on my Election 2015 page, which will also remind you of who was endorsed by whom. There have been some other endorsements issued in recent days – Sylvester Turner received the American Council of Engineering Companies of Houston and 80-20 PAC endorsements, while Bill King received nods from the Homebuilders Association and the Greater Houston Restaurant Association, for example – but I haven’t tracked them. The eight day finance reports for the runoff are due now and I will put them up as I see them. Early voting starts tomorrow, and an awful lot of our city government for the next four years is still to be determined. Get informed and make good choices between now and December 12.