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Natasha Ruiz

Runoff reminder: State House

Previously: Statewide, Congress, SBOE and State Senate.

There are seven Democratic primary runoffs for State House districts. Let’s have a look at what we’ve got.

HD26

Located in Fort Bend County, HD26 is an open seat now held by Rep. Rick Miller, who dropped out of his contested primary after some racist remarks he’d made were publicized. Sarah DeMerchant, the Dem candidate in 2016 (42.1% of the vote) and 2018 (47.6%) faces off against first-time candidate Dr. Suleman Lalani. Lalani led in March 31.7%, DeMerchant had 29.6%. I do not know if either of the other two candidates from March have endorsed in the runoff. HD26 is a prime target for Dems, one of the nine districts carried by Beto won by Republicans last time around. My primary interview with Sarah DeMerchant is here, and my primary interview with Lalani is here. A brief Q&A with all of the primary candidates from a local paper is here.

(UPDATE: Since I first drafted this, Rish Oberoi has endorsed Suleman Lalani.)

HD67

Moving up to Collin County, this is one of two near-misses for Dems from 2018, where Sarah Depew took 48.8%. (Sarah Hirsch, who got 49.7% in 2018, is back for another crack at HD66.) Four new candidates lined up for this race, with Tom Adair (32.9%) and Lorenzo Sanchez (27.0%) ending as the top two. Adair was endorsed by the DMN in March, and is quoted in this story from the Plano Against Police Brutality march in early June. Sanchez has been endorsed by Latino Victory Fund and also by former Senate candidate Cristina Tzintzun Ramirez. Both appear to have been quite active at recent protests and rallies, going by their respective Facebook pages.

HD100

This is an open Democratic seat, vacated by Eric Johnson, who is now the Mayor of Dallas. Lorraine Birabil won the special election to fill out the remainder of Johnson’s term, so she is the incumbent, though she has not participated in a legislative session yet. (There’s another race like this later, as you may know.) She led the field of six with 29.3%, followed by Jasmine Crockett at 25.9%. The Lone Star Project recently sent out an email touting Rep. Birabil’s accomplishments in her short time in office – she has called for a special session to address police violence and has vowed to file legislation on the topic. Crockett for her part has been representing protesters and co-filing lawsuits on behalf of people injured by rubber bullets. Rep. Birabil is an Annie’s List-endorsed candidate.

HD119

Also an open Democratic seat, now held by Rep. Roland Gutierrez, who as we know is running for SD19 and is in a primary runoff there. Elizabeth “Liz” Campos (whose website was offline when I drafted this) and Jennifer Ramos were the top two contenders, with 46.1% and 43.8% in March, respectively. Ramos was endorsed by the Express-News in March, and was also endorsed by Latino Victory Fund. I don’t have much else to tell you about this race.

HD138

Our last three races are all in Harris County. HD138 is the only one currently held by a Republican, and it is another Beto-carried top target, which fell short of flipping in 2018 by a handful of votes. Akilah Bacy led the way in the primary with 46.8%, followed by Jenifer Rene Pool with 29.2%. (Google still does not show a campaign webpage for Pool when I search for her.) Bacy was endorsed by the Chronicle in March, by 2018 candidate Adam Milasincic before that, and is on the Annie’s List slate. My interview with Akilah Bacy is here, and with Jenifer Pool is here.

HD142

Remember this one? Longtime Rep. Harold Dutton, forced into a runoff against still-serving-on-City-Council-in-District-B-because-we-can’t-get-a-damned-runoff-scheduled-there Jerry Davis? The race with the mystery candidate that other State Reps want investigated? That investigation is ongoing, I’ve not heard anything since then. Yeah, I don’t know what I can add to this.

HD148

Last but not least, the other district in which a special election winner is trying to be the official November candidate. Anna Eastman won the special election and runoff to fill out the remainder of Jessica Farrar’s term. She took 41.6% in the field of five in March. Penny Shaw, who was a 2018 candidate for County Commissioner in Precinct 4 and who finished sixth in the 13-candidate special election, took 22.1% in March. Eastman was endorsed by the Chron in both the special election and the primary. She has been touting vote by mail for the runoff, and along with Rep. Jarvis Johnson and Sen. John Whitmire has promised to introduce legislation making it easier for homeowners associations to change deed restrictions to easily allow old racist language to be removed. Shaw was endorsed by Farrar for the primary, and has the larger share of organizational endorsements. I interviewed both for the special election – my conversation with Rep. Eastman is here, and with Shaw is here. Both also participated in a forum held by the 2020 Democratic Candidates Debates group on Facebook, and you can see that here.

That covers most of the races of interest. I will do an update on the Commissioners Court Precinct 3 runoff, and I will remind everyone who’s running in the judicial races. Let me know what you think.

Dutton’s colleagues ask for investigation of Natasha Ruiz

Hey, look, it’s actual election news!

Rep. Harold Dutton

Nearly the entire Harris County Democratic legislative delegation has asked the county attorney and district attorney to open a criminal investigation into the candidacy of a Texas House candidate whose existence was called into question after this year’s March election.

The candidate, one of four in the primary race for state Rep. Harold Dutton’s seat, received enough votes to help force Dutton, a longtime Houston Democrat, into a runoff this year.

“We are concerned that more than 2500 Harris County voters may have been duped into voting for a non-existent candidate, a serious theft of those voters’ most important right, and three legitimate candidates were harmed by the crimes committed,” reads the March 18 letter, which was signed by every delegation member except Dutton and released to a Tribune reporter on Thursday. “We request that your offices coordinate an immediate investigation into the events documented in the attached memo and take appropriate prosecutorial action at the earliest possible time.”

Dutton was the only Democrat from Houston not to sign the letter.

[…]

Dutton, who had previously said he had hired a private investigator to look into the matter, told the Tribune on Thursday that he was not involved with the delegation’s letter to Ogg and Ryan and was focused on winning the runoff election, which is now slated for mid-July instead of May.

“I hope someone takes a look at the system that allows this to happen and cleans it up so that it can’t happen again,” he said. “If there are people who have engaged in a conspiracy, I hope that law enforcement will deal with them in the proper context.”

The delegation’s letter also included an attached “Indices of Election Fraud,” which detailed the background of the long-winding drama and “known facts indicating election fraud.”

See here and here for the background. The letter sent by the delegation is here, and the “Indices of Fraud” attachment is here. The latter is the more interesting, and contains the most new information. It suggests strongly that the person originally identified as “Natasha Demming” is not the person who filed for a spot on the ballot, but was perhaps a victim of identity theft. What I had considered to be the wilder option, that someone impersonated this person when they filed for this seat, appears to be the more likely explanation based on what the delegation claims.

So yeah, this should be investigated. Start by talking to the private eye that Dutton hired, and talk to all the political insiders to see what crazy things they might have heard about this. The big question here isn’t who did this (if it really was a deliberate attempt to put a sham candidate on the ballot) but why they did it. If the intent was to hurt Dutton’s re-election chances, it seems to me that there are more straightforward ways to do that than putting an impostor on the ballot in the hope of forcing Dutton into a runoff that maybe he’d lose. (What do you think might have happened if Dutton’s runoff opponent had been Natasha Ruiz, for example?) For sure, if there is someone behind this, maybe that person isn’t the most clear-headed thinker you’ve ever known. Whatever the case, getting a handle on the motivation might at least point you in the direction of a suspect. There doesn’t appear to be much physical evidence (unless maybe someone managed to take a picture of “Natasha Ruiz”), so if this gets cracked it’ll be because someone talked. Find out who that might be, and the rest may follow.

UPDATE: And indeed, there will be an investigation.

The Harris County Attorney’s office told the Houston Chronicle on Thursday that it was looking into the matter.

The county’s District Attorney Kim Ogg responded to the delegation in late March by saying that she had forwarded the case to the public corruption division but could not confirm or deny whether it was under investigation.

“Please be assured that the protection of our democratic election process, along with enforcement of all related laws, is a top priority for my administration and that your complaint will be addressed by this office,” Ogg wrote.

Not exactly sure why it’s the County Attorney jumping in on this, but whatever. I very much look forward to seeing the results.

HCDP statement on Natasha Ruiz

From the inbox:

The Harris County Democratic Party has learned of an allegation that a candidate on the Harris County Democratic Party Primary ballot for Texas House District 142 may not have been a genuine candidate. HCDP has not been presented with evidence to corroborate this allegation, but we have recently become aware of its existence.

The facts we have are that on December 9th, during the 30 day filing period to be placed on the Democratic Party primary ballot, a person claiming to be Natasha Ruiz came to the party office with the required elements to file: an application, identification, and filing fee. This Application was subsequently approved, and the name of this candidate appeared on the March 3rd Democratic Party primary ballot.

Since the day the person filing the application came to the Party office, no one from our staff has had any further contact with her.

The party followed all steps required by the Texas Election Code to approve this Application for a place on the ballot. At no time prior to the primary election did we receive any information that there may be any questions or concerns about the genuineness of this Application or the eligibility of the person who submitted it to be a candidate for the office sought.

See here for the background. There are basically two possible explanations here:

1. Someone, for reasons unknown, provided a fake ID for a person who then claimed to be “Natasha Ruiz” and filed for the HD142 primary.

2. The Natasha Ruiz that ABC13 identified and contacted yesterday is the person who filed for the primary and was not telling the truth when she denied any knowledge of this.

Maybe I’m missing some other possibility, so let me know if you come up with another scenario that can fit the known facts. Option 1 is the most spectacular, and as such seems to be the least likely. As for option 2, maybe Harold Dutton’s private investigator can shed some light on that. Fascinating as this all is, until and unless we find out more there’s not much to be done about it, and there’s insufficient evidence to conclude that the absence of “Natasha Ruiz” on the ballot would have enabled Dutton to avoid a runoff. Let’s move on to May, and if something comes up to suggest that dirty tricks were at play we can reassess. Stace has more.

HD142 and the case of the mystery candidate

WTF?

Rep. Harold Dutton

Long time Democratic State Representative Harold Dutton was forced into a runoff Tuesday night, but a ghost candidate may have helped make that happen.

Dutton, who has long represented House District 142 in northeast Houston, already faced a formidable challenger in Houston City Council Member Jerry Davis. However, the only female name on the ballot is what’s raising eyebrows.

“When you’re leading, you’re never at a disadvantage,” said Dutton, “But I think there are a lot of questions about what happened in this election.

According to the Harris County Clerk’s election records, the third place finisher in the race is a woman named Natasha D. Ruiz. She received 2,597 votes, or just 20% of the votes. Dutton finished first with 45% and Davis made it into the runoff with 25%.

“We have never seen them, we never talked to them, they never showed up, they never had a sign. They don’t seem to be a real person,” said Dutton.

Davis didn’t disagree with Dutton’s assessment.

“I ran my race, I saw her name, Ms. Natasha Ruiz,” said Davis. “I have not had an opportunity to meet her, or see her at any of the events. No signs in the yard, nothing.”

ABC13 found a campaign treasurer filing document with the Texas Ethics Commission. On the document, the candidate’s name was listed as Natasha Demming Ruiz. The campaign treasurer is listed as Hector Riveria.

Riveria’s phone number went unanswered. However, when we called Ruiz, a woman picked up. Identifying herself as Natasha Demming, she told us she lives in Colorado and is a truck driver.

Demming said she has not lived in Houston for years. She is registered to vote at her elderly mother’s home. Demming said she has no idea why anyone would sign her up to run for office.

In a year where we had Not That Jerry Garcia and in a city where we once had the other Bill White, I guess I can’t be too surprised by something like this. The Trib adds some details:

Dutton, who said he has already hired a private investigator to look into Ruiz’s candidacy issue, told the Tribune that questions about it were first brought to his attention a few weeks ago, when an anonymous letter sent to his law office pointed out discrepancies between Ruiz and a “Natasha Nicole Demming.”

A copy of Demming’s voter registration record with Harris County was attached and included her address and phone number, which matched the paperwork Ruiz filed with the Harris County Democratic Party in December, though Ruiz wrote on the candidate filing that her full name was “Natasha Demming Ruiz” and her ballot name was “Natasha Ruiz.” Ruiz also listed her occupation as a teacher.

The address and phone number used by Ruiz on her candidate filing also matched a campaign treasurer appointment form filed with the Texas Ethics Commission. The phone number for Ruiz’s campaign treasurer had been disconnected when called Thursday.

Ruiz’s candidate filing paperwork, which was reviewed by the Tribune, was notarized by Marc Malacoff, who works for the local party. DJ Ybarra, executive director for the Harris County Democratic Party, said that Ruiz showed a Texas driver’s license with an expiration date as her form of photo ID when submitting that paperwork.

So either someone used a fake ID to impersonate this Natasha Demming Ruiz person, or it was her and she’s not being truthful about it now. Both are crazy, and deserve some kind of investigation to find out what happened. Candidates who file for an office and then basically disappear are hardly unheard of – I feel like nearly all of the multi-candidate City Council races last year featured at least one such person, and anyone who’s been a Democrat in Texas for more than five minutes has been saying “Yeah, like Gene Kelly” since I started typing this sentence – but this is next level. I would certainly like to know what the real explanation is here. The Chron has more.

January 2020 campaign finance reports: State House, part 1

I’m going to take a two-part look at the finance reports in State House districts. Part One will be from Harris County, looking at both contested primaries and contested November races. Part Two will focus on races in the counties around Harris. Previous entries in this series include Harris County offices, and statewide races.

Undrai Fizer, HD126
Natali Hurtado, HD126

Sam Harless, HD126

Josh Markle, HD128
Mary Williams, HD128

Briscoe Cain, HD128
Robert Hoskins, HD128

Kayla Alix, HD129

Dennis Paul, HD129
Ryan Lee, HD129

Bryan Henry, HD130

Tom Oliverson (PAC), HD130

Alma Allen, HD131
Carey Lashley, HD131
Deondre Moore, HD131
Elvonte Patton, HD131

Gina Calanni, HD132

Angelica Garcia, HD132
Mike Schofield, HD132

Sandra Moore, HD133

Jim Murphy (PAC), HD133

Lanny Bose, HD134
Ann Johnson, HD134
Ruby Powers, HD134

Sarah Davis, HD134

Jon Rosenthal, HD135

Merrilee Beazley, HD135
Justin Ray, HD135

Akilah Bacy, HD138
Jenifer Pool, HD138
Josh Wallenstein, HD138

Josh Flynn, HD138
Lacey Hull, HD138
Claver Kamau-Imani, HD138

Jarvis Johnson, HD139
Angeanette Thibodeaux, HD139

Senfronia Thompson, HD141
Willie Franklyn, HD141

Harold Dutton, HD142
Richard Bonton, HD142
Jerry Davis, HD142
Natasha Ruiz, HD142

Shawn Thierry, HD146
Ashton Woods, HD146

Garnet Coleman, HD147
Colin Ross, HD147
Aurelia Wagner, HD147

Anna Eastman, HD148
Adrian P. Garcia, HD148
Cynthia Reyes-Revilla, HD148
Penny Shaw, HD148
Emily Wolf, HD148

Lui La Rotta, HD148

Michael Walsh, HD150

Valoree Swanson, HD150


Candidate     Raised     Spent     Loan     On Hand
===================================================
Fizer            800       319        0         500
Hurtado       25,091     9,588        0      11,752

Harless       73,265    11,022   20,000     103,669

Markle        78,906    12,426        0      68,081
Williams

Cain         125,891    39,462        0     133,616
Hoskins        4,575    26,033        0       3,804

Alix           2,141     1,343        0         898

Paul          85,621    38,444  156,000     116,486
Lee           10,720     4,779        0       5,879

Henry          3,385     2,901        0       3,385

Oliverson     56,555    62,895   60,000     101,693

Allen         11,100    13,251        0      32,798
Lashley
Moore
Patton        43,075     1,100        0      10,000

Calanni       82,002    24,571        0      70,770

Garcia        28,045    20,076        0      21,309
Schofield     27,400    24,152        0     152,549

Moore          2,000     2,539        0       1,502

Murphy       120,076   132,583        0     487,913

Bose          54,573    13,702        0      40,871
Johnson       58,287    31,075        0     148,054
Powers        43,015    40,852        0      18,299

Davis         89,750    76,040        0     230,958

Rosenthal     70,841    42,143        0      41,320

Beazley            0       465        0           0
Ray           52,666    24,644        0      47,082

Bacy          28,066     6,799        0      14,455
Pool
Wallenstein   42,137    35,766   10,000      51,786

Flynn         12,080    20,761        0       9,166
Hull          50,068     4,551        0      45,516
Kamau-Imani   18,800     2,229        0      16,570

Johnson        8,775     3,619    2,500      26,946
Thibodeaux     7,000     2,069        0       4,931

Thompson     104,216   136,801        0     889,738
Franklyn           0     1,873        0       1,336

Dutton        26,876    16,676        0      79,263
Bonton
Davis        139,565     9,787        0     129,928
Ruiz

Thierry       13,710    11,825        0      13,446
Woods          1,485     1,263        0       1,690

Coleman       97,990   129,532        0     110,589
Ross
Wagner

Eastman       75,378    57,861        0      33,967
Garcia        12,100     2,500        0       4,000
Reyes-Revilla  3,547         0    8,000       3,547
Shaw          11,635    15,531   34,000      15,454
Wolf               0         0      200         235

La Rotta      11,280    10,602        0       4,095

Walsh              0        33        0          33

Swanson       10,201    27,643   34,040      34,657

You may also want to refer to this Trib story and this Reform Austin post about the finance reports in the top tier House races. I don’t have the bandwidth to look at all of them, so check them out for their reporting on it.

There are several contested Democratic primaries, including five challenges to incumbents in safe D districts. This was a popular pastime in the 2000s, during the Craddick era – Alma Allen beat Ron Wilson, Armando Walle beat Kevin Bailey, Borris Miles took three out of four against Al Edwards. The latter of those occurred in 2012, and while there have been primary opponents to incumbents over the past few cycles, none have come close to succeeding; Edward Pollard in HD137 and Demetria Smith in HD149, both of whom got about 35% in their races in 2016, came closest. The one this year that has the greatest potential to upset the status quo is in HD142, where longtime State Rep. Harold Dutton faces unrest over his role in passing the TEA takeover bill as well as the tumult in City Council District B. Still-current District B incumbent Jerry Davis, who transferred all of his city campaign funds into his State Rep campaign treasury, is the main threat to Dutton. I can’t wait to see how the endorsements play out – Davis has already gotten the nod from the Texas Gulf Coast Area Labor Federation (TGCALF), AFL-CIO, the only challenger to an incumbent in Harris County to do so. Elvonte Patton, who was a candidate for HCDE in the 2018 primary, has a nice fundraising total, but most of that is in kind, and Alma Allen has vanquished previous challengers with 85% or more of the vote in the past.

On the Republican, there’s not much action outside of an attempt to install a grownup in HD128. As I understand it, Robert Hoskins has some establishment support in his effort to knock out Briscoe Cain, but as you can see not a lot of money. We both know which speaks louder.

The four most hotly contested seats, one of which is open, is where the bulk of the action is. All three contenders in HD134 raised similar sums, but Ann Johnson has a commanding lead in cash on hand thanks to a big first half of the year. Akilah Bacy and Josh Wallenstein both raised a few bucks in HD138, with Wallenstein doing a bit better, while Lacey Hull led the pack on the Republican side. I have to assume now that his spot on the ballot is assured, Josh Flynn will ramp it up. Freshman Reps Gina Calanni and Jon Rosenthal both outpaced the totals of their potential opponents. The HD132 GOP race will be interesting, as Angelica Garcia has Greg Abbott’s endorsement but former Rep. Mike Schofield still has cash left over from his 2018 loss. To some extent, none of these totals matter that much because there will be a ton of PAC money on both sides in all of the competitive districts. Still, a candidate or incumbent who can raise cash on their own is stronger than one who relies mostly on others doing that work.

In HD148, where there’s both a contested primary and a special election runoff (happening now!), the main thing to note is that these totals are all from October 27 through the end of the year, as all of the candidates save Emily Wolf had eight-day finance reports from their November 2019 races. Penny Shaw has gotten a couple of early endorsements, so the 30-day report in early February will tell a more detailed picture for this race. As for the special election runoff, there’s nothing to suggest anything unusual, Erica Greider’s weekend daydreams aside.

Beyond that, not a whole lot else to discuss. Jim Murphy’s cash on hand total is one reason why I speculated he might consider a run for Mayor in 2023 if the Lege is no longer amenable to him. Sarah Davis would probably have more cash on hand right now if she hadn’t had to fend off primary challengers in the past. As above, I’m pretty sure she’ll have the funds she needs to run that race. The Dems have some longer shots out there, with HD126 being the most competitive of them, so keep an eye on Natali Hurtado. I’ll be back next time with the State House races from elsewhere in the region.