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Runoff day in SA

I think I speak for a lot of people when I say I’m glad the San Antonio Mayoral runoff is almost over. We hope, anyway.

Leticia Van de Putte

Leticia Van de Putte

After weeks of bruising attacks — and at least one hand left unshaken — the San Antonio mayoral race is coming to a close. Presumably.

“It might not end on Saturday,” said Manuel Medina, chairman of the Bexar County Democratic Party, raising the prospect of an election night too close to call, spawning recounts or challenges. “It might be that close.”

Whoever eventually wins the hard-fought runoff, the outcome will be historic. Incumbent Ivy Taylor, appointed to the office after Julián Castro left last year for Washington, D.C., would be the first black person elected to the position. Former state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte would be the city’s first Hispanic female mayor.

Higher-than-expected turnout during early voting has both sides claiming momentum. The campaigns say they are especially encouraged by new voters entering the picture, perhaps a measure of enthusiasm largely missing from the rapid-fire series of elections Bexar County has held over the past several months.

If anyone has a lead — however slight — heading into Saturday, it is Taylor, insiders agree. But they say it is nothing Van de Putte cannot overcome with a strong turnout operation come Election Day.

“We know based on data that our voters vote early,” said Justin Hollis, Taylor’s campaign manager. “The challenge, as with any campaign, is just getting the rest of your voters out.”


The at times vicious back-and-forth has left some political observers looking forward to the day after Saturday.

“It’s gotten more personal and in fact there’s been very little of substantive policy issues, and we do have a lot of issues that need to be addressed in our local government,” said Henry Flores, a political science professor at St. Mary’s University. “And there’s things that hang in the air right now until the end of the election,” Flores added, citing several issues including the city’s contract negotiations with police and firefighters.

I’m pulling for Leticia, but really I’m just glad it will be over, and I say that as someone who isn’t in San Antonio and is still mentally armoring up for the long campaign slog here. The Express-News’ Bruce Davidson adds on:

Mayor Ivy Taylor

Money is a huge advantage in a political campaign, but it can’t guarantee a victory. And the pattern in early voting indicates that Taylor will enjoy a big lead when the early vote totals become public shortly after the polls close Saturday night.

Voting boxes in North Side conservative neighborhoods piled up more votes that the rest of the city. That is typical for a San Antonio election, and while Taylor may not be a Republican, her campaign’s DNA is certainly of the GOP variety.

Democratic and liberal candidates usually close the gap with Election Day voting. It isn’t always enough for victory, but that gives Van de Putte’s team hope.

Van de Putte’s 25-year history as a Democratic legislator is one of the reasons that the politically amorphous mayor can reasonably be viewed as the front-runner. Taylor’s vote against the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance, her move to kill the planned streetcar project and public safety union support for Van de Putte also moved conservative voters into the appointed incumbent’s column.

Saturday night’s drama will center around whether Van de Putte can gain enough Election Day votes to overcome Taylor’s expected lead. Weather forecasters are reporting a 50-percent chance of rain on Saturday. Van de Putte’s chances would be damaged by heavy rain.


Changing demographics have made San Antonio municipal elections more friendly to progressive politicians, although moderates win if they get into a runoff. Phil Hardberger had deep Democratic ties, but was perceived as the moderate candidate in 2005 when he defeated Julián Castro. While Van de Putte is in reality a centrist, Taylor holds the stronger moderate image in this runoff.

I consider that example of how words like “moderate” and “centrist” can mean whatever people want them to mean in certain contexts. Sometimes it’s what you do, sometimes it’s what you say, and sometimes it’s how you say it. Be that as it may, polls are open from 7 till 7 today. Get out and vote, or don’t complain later if you don’t like the result. The Current and the Rivard Report have more.

No term limits referendum this fall

Much as I dislike our silly term limits ordinance, I think this is the correct term of action.

CM Andrew Burks

A City Council committee on Monday killed a proposal to ask voters whether to give the mayor, controller and council members up to 12 years in office. They currently are limited to six.

Councilman Andrew Burks, whose budget amendment last month sent the issue to the council’s ethics and governance committee, first tried to build a case for longer terms on its merits. He argued that it would save money in avoided election costs, attract better candidates, encourage more long-term thinking, shift officials’ focus from fundraising to public policy and reduce the use of council positions as stepping stones to other offices.

Virtually every member of the committee told Burks the proposal was the wrong idea at the wrong time and voted 9-1 to put it to rest. Even Burks, who was elected in December on his 13th try for public office, voted with the majority. Only new District K Councilman Larry Green voted against spiking the proposal.

“I think that we need to revisit the three two-year terms. I think that the cost associated with it is a challenge, not only for the city, but also is a (fundraising) challenge for the candidates,” Green said.

District I Councilman James Rodriguez said any move to change term limits should come from the citizenry.

“I haven’t seen a groundswell of support for changing term limits, especially in my district, and I think they’d like us to get back to the business of running and managing this city,” he said.

While I don’t think it’s necessarily the case that a move to change term limits must come from the grassroots, I agree that there’s no real desire among voters for it to be changed right now. Recent polling data, referenced in a Houston Politics post, suggests the term limits ordinance is popular as it is. I think it’s highly unlikely that a referendum to modify this ordinance would succeed without a long campaign to discuss why it needs to be changed and why an alternative system would serve the city better. The latter half of a highly contentious Presidential election year is not a propitious time to start such a campaign even if the resources existed for it. As was the case in San Antonio, where Mayor Phil Hardberger successfully pushed to have their term limits ordinance changed, I believe that a campaign to do the same here could be initiated and led by a high profile individual like a current or former Mayor. While neither Mayors Parker nor White are supporters of the term limits ordinance, they have not shown any inclination to lead the charge here, and beyond them I don’t see any obvious candidates for the task. I appreciate CM Burks’ efforts, though I would advise him to not take the defeat so personally, but the time isn’t right and there’s no point in putting something on the ballot that’s going to lose. Campos has more.

San Antonio’s extended term limits

This year for the first time, most candidates on the ballot for San Antonio city offices are not subject to the old term limits law.

San Antonio [once] had some of the nation’s strictest term limits for City Council — two 2-year terms and then a lifetime ban on service.

Voters in 2008 relaxed those limits after an aggressive campaign championed by then-Mayor Phil Hardberger. Council members and the mayor can now serve up to four two-year terms — one politician could serve eight years on the council and another eight as mayor.

How the new limits will affect the City Council remains to be seen. It appears, though, that the potential for longer tenures will lead to more continuity and institutional knowledge, and could draw more candidates who want to pursue long-term projects.

[Former City Council Member Kevin] Wolff said the grind of the restrictive term limits made it hard to get things accomplished.

“The reality is that for most folks, you spend your first year trying to figure out who’s on first and your second year doing something,” he said. “Then your next term, you’re a lame duck.”

Now with the prospect of eight years, the city’s leaders are eyeing more sweeping initiatives. Mayor Julián Castro, who is finishing his first term, said that he and the council can do a better job of establishing long-term projects in areas such as economic development, education, transportation and infrastructure improvements.

The possibility for longer service could also attract a higher caliber of candidate, said public relations consultant and former mayoral contender Trish DeBerry, who ran the campaign to relax term limits.

Henry Flores, a political scientist at St. Mary’s University, said the conventional wisdom when term limits were enacted in 1991 was that they were the solution to long incumbencies and entrenched politicians. But his analysis of 20 years of data, half from before the term limits were approved, shows that politicians were actually leaving office at a faster rate before the strict limits.

I’d love to see that data. I don’t think the same would be true for Houston, where the norm before our term limits law was for incumbents to serve a long time. The more interesting claim is DeBerry’s, though I don’t know what metric one could use to evaluate it. I suspect Mayor Castro is correct about the city trying to do more long-term projects, though we’ll see if that’s just something Mayor Castro wants to do. Maybe someday we’ll get to see if any of these things would be true here as well. Probably not someday soon, though.

2010 Houston term limits survey

Last month, I posted several links with information and research relating to term limits, including the results of a 2004 City of Houston survey about them and the proposed wording for an updated survey. That updated survey has been done, and the results were emailed to me this morning by Rice University’s Dr. Robert Stein. You can see a presentation of the results here, with the text of the questions and crosstab data here. Some highlights:

– Support for term limits is up overall, from 54.5% in 2004 to 59.7% this year. Moreover, intensity for it is up as well. Both surveys measured support on a scale of 1 to 7, where 1 = “strongly support”, 4 = “neutral”, and 7 = “strongly oppose”. In 2004, 24.0% chose 1, while 30.4% chose 2 or 3 (numbers may not sum exactly due to rounding). In 2010, it was 44.4% choosing 1, with 15.3% choosing 2 or 3. By the same token, more people were neutral in 2004 (22.4%) than in 2010 (19.2%), but more people were strongly opposed in 2010 (11.0%) than in 2004 (6.8%). Finally, though you can’t see it in the graph, 3% of respondents answered “don’t know” in 2010, compared to 4.2% in 2004.

– As in 2004, a slight majority of respondents initially said they would prefer to keep the current term limits we have than make any changes. 51% said keep them as is, while 24% said they preferred two four-year terms. In 2004, 52% said stand pat, while 19% wanted two fours.

– In each survey, respondents were then asked their opinion about various pro- and anti-term limits arguments, and also about letting someone who had finished his or her allotted number of terms to run again after sitting out for a cycle or two. Both sets of arguments had some support for them in each year, while nobody really like the idea about letting someone run again after sitting it out for two or four years.

– After the questions about the pros and cons of term limits, which I thought were presented fairly and not in a manner designed to push anyone one way or another, people were asked again if they wanted to keep the status quo or change it. In 2004, 42.4% of respondents said they would vote for a charter change that modified the term limits law to allow for two four-year terms, with 44.6% saying they’d vote against it. In 2010, 39% said they wanted to keep things as they are, while 36% said they wanted two fours. The main difference here is that in 2004, no other option was presented; the remaining respondents were “not sure”. In 2010, 7% went for four two-year terms, with 18% expressing a preference for an unspecified “other” choice.

– What that suggests to me is that support for the current system may be a little softer than the initial number suggest. A straight-up choice between the status quo and two four-year terms would make for a competitive election. As you know, I’m not a fan of term limits, and my answer throughout this survey would have been in favor of getting rid of them – I’d have been in the 18% “other” camp. But if my only options were what we’ve got and two fours, I’d vote for the latter. The question as always in these situations is who does the pushing for each choice. We know there will be organized opposition to any change, though it’s not clear to me how much money they’ll be able to raise. It’s not clear to me there will be any organization in favor of a two fours choice. The term limits commission was Bill White’s baby, and he has his hands full with other pursuits right now. San Antonio successfully modified its term limits law because its popular Mayor Phil Hardberger actively campaigned for it. I have no idea if Mayor Parker would get involved in this – my inclination is to say no, she’ll stay out of it – and if that’s the case, who would lead the charge? There’s no obvious figurehead for it, and without that, I would expect a referendum to fail. Maybe if a lot of money is raised for it, a recognizable spokesperson wouldn’t be needed. Even so, it’s not clear who’d be doing the fundraising.

So that’s where we stand. We still need to get the Term Limits Commission’s official report and recommendations, and once we do we’ll have a better idea of how this may shake out. My guess is there will be a referendum, with changing to a two four-year term system being the alternative. What do you think?

UPDATE: Campos reports from the Term Limits Commission meeting last night:

The commission adopted motions to change the length of terms thus eliminating the two-year term. They will look at the three or four-year term option. They voted to consider staggering terms of council members. In my opinion, staggering terms work only under a four-year term system. They also voted to do away with the “lifetime ban”, in other words after a member serves the maximum allowed, he/she can sit out a term before running again, the so-called opt in – opt out provision.

The goal of the Commission is to adopt a more concrete city charter change recommendation early next month then forward to the Houston City Council by June 30. The Mayor and City Council will then decide in July or early August if they want to put it on this November’s ballot.

So there you have it.

UPDATE: I received the following email from Dr. Stein:

In your post today you wrote:

while nobody really like the idea about letting someone run again after sitting it out for two or four years.

This is not quite correct. Question 7 asked if the respondent would support allowing term limited office holders to run again for the same office, after they have sat out one term. Those who answered “no” “don’t know’ or ‘refused’ to this question were asked Question 7A, “what if the former office-holder had to sit out two terms before running again, would you then favor this change…” You have to add the respondents who said yes to question 7 and 7A to get the total number of respondents who would support allowing term limited officeholders to sit out two terms before running again. This figure is 294 or 58.6% of our sample.

It is is not obvious from the survey and report posted on the website that this is how you calculate the percent of respondents who supported allowing term limited officeholders to run after sitting out two terms. {note: question 7 skips respondent to question 8 if they answered ‘yes to Question 7a . Those answering ‘no’ , ‘not sure’ or ‘refused’ are asked 7a.}

We are preparing additional analysis of these responses and will post them and send them along shortly.

Sorry for causing this confusion.

My apologies as well for the confusion, and my thanks to Dr. Stein for the clarification.

Mayor White wants to consider term limits review

Mayor White wants to reconsider term limits.

In a City Council meeting Wednesday, White said he is not advocating an end to the policy, but rather a commission that would study the possibility of changing or eliminating the rule. Voters would decide whether to establish the commission in a question on the November ballot, White said.

“I personally have always been one to favor term limits,” White said. “I didn’t get some vision from above about what would be the right number of terms, however. We have to ensure that our elected representatives have enough experience to hold the bureaucracy accountable.”

As the story notes, a bill that passed the House this spring would have put a proposition on the ballot that would have required a change to Houston’s term limits law if it received a majority of the votes, but it didn’t make it out of the Senate. This is nowhere near as ambitious as what former San Antonio Mayor Phil Hardberger did last year, when he got a referendum on that city’s even more stringent term limits law on the ballot, which then won passage in November, but it’s a step in the right direction. It’s also certain to kick up as much fuss from the usual suspects as a full-fledged amendment would have done. And sure enough:

The lead organizer of the 1991 ballot initiative that inaugurated the current system pounced on the mere suggestion of change.

“I think this is a waste of taxpayers’ time and money because the people have already spoken on term limits,” said Clymer Wright. More than 56 percent of voters approved the measure, which was placed on the ballot by petition. “If the politicians go against the people on term limits, the politicians always lose.”

Yes, the people spoke about it in 1991, and if the people decide they want to speak about it again in 2010, they can do that as well. Election results don’t last forever, they last till the next election. The Constitution can be amended if the people decide they want to do it, after all. So too can Houston’s term limits law be changed.

UPDATE: Campos reiterates what he said in the article. I think he’s right that the pro-term limits folks are more organized and motivated, and as there’s no one leading the anti side, it would be hard to pass even a study to revise them. But I think the electorate is a lot different now than it was in 1991, and as before term limits is basically an issue for conservative Republicans who think there are too many Democrats in office; I certainly remember how quickly they got dropped as a talking point in the 90s once the GOP took over. I don’t think it would take much to win the vote Mayor White is proposing, but it will take some skin in the game from folks who aren’t being term-limited out.

Jeff Weems

We’ve been hearing plenty about the top of the ticket for Democrats in 2010, but there are still several slots to fill. One of them is the Railroad Commissioner seat held by Victor Carrillo. Via email to Carl Whitmarsh, here’s a name for you:

Jeff Weems is running for the Democratic nomination for Texas Railroad Commissioner in 2010, hopefully earning a chance to square off with Republican incumbent Victor Carrillo.

Jeff is currently the precinct Chair for Precinct 274. He is an oil and gas litigation attorney, representing exploration companies, service companies and landowners. Before becoming an attorney, he worked in the industry for years, first as a laborer on drilling rigs, next as a mud man, then as a landman. He has been an attorney for 19 years. He works with Harrison, Bettis, Staff, McFarland & Weems, a mid-sized Houston litigation firm.

Jeff is running because he knows the energy industry inside and out. He knows that the Railroad Commission can do so much more than it does now. The incumbent Republican commissioners are far too ready to take contributions from companies with matters pending before the commission, even when they are not up for election. Even more importantly, the current commissioners have demonstrated a bias toward the gas utilities when rate cases are heard, which ends up costing the citizens of Texas dearly. In addition, Jeff will balance the desires of the operators seeking to drill and complete wells with the need to protect Texas’ environment (such as in the Barnett Shale).

Won’t surprise me if Dale Henry, who was a candidate in 2006 and again in 2008, runs again. Mark Thompson, who defeated Henry and Art Hall in the 2008 primary for RR Commish, is currently running for Governor. There may be someone else out there as well – who knows, maybe Hall wants to take another crack at it – but at least we have one.

The potential contenders for all statewide offices at this time, as I know of them:

Governor – Tom Schieffer is in, Kinky Friedman and Mark Thompson say they’re in. Kirk Watson and/or Ronnie Earle may decide to join them. Former San Antonio Mayor Phil Hardberger has been mentioned as well, but while everyone I’ve spoken to loves the guy, nobody as yet thinks this is likely.

Lieutenant Governor – Not a whole lot of chatter about this one just yet, but I’ve recently heard that State Sen. Royce West, who has previously expressed some interest in Attorney General, may run for this slot instead. Watson remains a possibility here as well.

Attorney General – Barbara Radnofsky is in. West and Earle are possible. State Rep. Patrick Rose has been in the conversation, but any buzz he’s had has diminished of late. 2006 nominee David Van Os is always a possibility, but the word I’ve heard lately is that he’s not considering it.

Comptroller – Haven’t heard a peep. Susan Combs may become the Kay Bailey Hutchison of the next decade, at least if no one serious ever challenges her.

Ag Commish – 2006 nominee Hank Gilbert is running. He may have company, but as yet I’ve not heard any other names.

Land Commish – I have recently heard the name of a potentially exciting candidate for this slot, but that person has not made a decision and the name was given to me in confidence, so that’s all I can say for now.

So there you have it. Regarding the Comptroller slot, Combs probably is the one person no one serious wants to run against. There’s a danger in that if there is a vacuum, it could get filled by a clown like Fred Head, whose buffoonish presence would be a drag on a ticket that had, say, Watson, West, and Earle/Radnofsky as the headliners. You can’t stop anyone from running – see “Kelly, Gene” for all the evidence of that you’ll need – but you can try to persuade someone with a bit more heft to challenge him in the primary if it comes down to it. A self-funder would be preferred, given the amount of funds that will need to be devoted to other races. Whether one can be found or not is the question.

Hardberger for Governor?

We’re not even a week out from sine die, and the 2010 campaign rumor ‘n speculation mill is in full gear. The most interesting bit in this story is right here:

Democratic consultant Christian Archer suggested that candidates would shortly hunt ways to gauge and raise their appeal. “There’s probably a 30-minute respite for people to go home, say hello to their families again,” Archer said. “And then people will start talking” about campaigns.

The cast of gubernatorial wannabes could widen — extending among Republicans to a longshot, state Rep. Leo Berman of Tyler, who’s been frustrated at legislative inaction on proposals related to illegal immigration. Berman said he intends to declare his candidacy for governor around July 4.

Among Democrats, John Montford, a former state senator, has been mentioned as a gubernatorial prospect, while there’s also talk of White or Sharp shifting sights from the Senate race to governor before candidate filings late this year. Archer said his client, former San Antonio Mayor Phil Hardberger, is similarly weighing a try for governor.

I can’t say Montford excites me much. He last held elected office in 1996, and at least at first glance there doesn’t appear to be all that much difference between him and Tom Schieffer. I could be wrong – I really don’t know much about the guy – but there’s nothing I can see in his track record to suggest he’d be anything but another business-friendly center-right Dem. Not that that’s a sin, but I’d like a little more variety in my primary, if that’s all right.

Hardberger, on the other hand, could be an interesting candidate. He was very popular in San Antonio, and there’s nothing I know of in his record as Mayor there that’s an obvious turnoff. The reaction to this idea I’ve seen from so far from folks in SA has been very positive. If this is for real and not just a standard issue consultant tout job, I’d definitely want to know more.

As for Berman, what can you say? He’s a one-trick pony, and that trick is nasty and hateful. I hope his idiocy gets lots of play in the GOP primary, and that he spends plenty of time making Rick Perry and KBH as uncomfortable and off-message as possible. Thanks to Marc Campos for the link.

Endorsement watch: Castro for San Antonio

Julian Castro, who narrowly lost the 2005 Mayoral race in San Antonio to outgoing Mayor Phil Hardberger, was endorsed for the office this year by the San Antonio Express News.

Castro is the best prepared candidate, and he offers the best option for voters in this race.

Since his loss to Hardberger in 2005, Castro has not taken his eye off the goal of succeeding his formal rival.

He has determinedly courted a business community that was skeptical of him four years ago.

And, notably, Castro cites economic growth as the mayor’s first job.

Meanwhile, an effort by some in the business community to recruit a candidate in the Hardberger mold failed.

And as a result of those factors, Castro has earned a significant share of support from a business community that is split between the three leading contenders. He already enjoyed considerable grass-roots strength.

Castro, now 34, has matured in the four years since he faced Hardberger.

And his 2009 campaign has avoided the many missteps that doomed his earlier run.

Not using his twin brother, State Rep. Joaquin Castro, as a stand-in was a good start. More seriously, Castro is a strong favorite to win, and might take it in the first round. Given that he’s just 34 now, that raises the question of where he might go from here.

Castro’s foes criticize him as overly ambitious, although he has not publicly expressed a desire for any political job other than mayor.

It’s hard to imagine that he hasn’t given the matter some thought. Assuming he does win this race, and that a Democrat doesn’t win the Governor’s race next year, Castro would be stepping down from this job in May of 2013, in plenty of time for the next go-round there. Anyone want to hop on board the Castro for Governor 2014 bandwagon? John Cornyn’s Senate seat will be up that year, too, if you want a different option. It’s never too early to speculate, after all. SA Mayor has more.

UPDATE: As Randy reminds me in the comments, SA’s extreme term limits law was loosened last years, so Castro – or whoever wins, of course – could serve till 2017. So my speculation is even more ridiculously premature. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

The next Mayor of San Antonio

Before Houston elects a new Mayor next November, San Antonio will do the same in May. Ken Rodriguez takes a look at what is shaping up to be a historic race.

“So,” my friend wanted to know, “what do you think of the mayor’s race?”

Could be historic, I said: “Right now we’ve got an all-Latino field. That’s never happened before.”

“Never?” my friend asked in disbelief.

“Not in modern times,” I replied.

Though no one has officially announced, we’ve got three Hispanics raising money to succeed Phil Hardberger: Julián Castro. Diane Cibrian. Fernando Reyes.

Think about that. In modern San Antonio history, only two Latinos have served as mayor — Henry Cisneros and Ed Garza — but no current Anglo powerbroker has filed a campaign finance report to signify a run.

Cisneros, of course, served in the 80s. He was Mayor while I was in college. Garza was the predecessor to current Mayor Phil Hardberger.

Gordon Hartman would be viable. A philanthropist and former homebuilder, he’s got name ID, writes big checks to local charities and has weighed an ’09 run since at least ’05.

But he’s a North Side mystery. He hasn’t filed a campaign finance report. And he couldn’t be reached for comment regarding his mayoral intentions.

If Hartman were to run, he could be a minority candidate. The lone Anglo in a field of Latinos.


The city may have turned a historic corner. One Anglo pillar in the business community puts it this way: “I think the perception is you are not going to have another Anglo mayor in San Antonio for a long, long time.”

The observation is based partly on the city’s growing Hispanic majority and partly on the shrinking power of the Anglo business community.

It’s an interesting contrast to Houston, where the three known Mayoral candidates so far are all Anglo. Everyone agrees that at least one non-white candidate will jump in at some point, but it’s not clear who they might be.

As for San Antonio, Castro is probably the frontrunner. He lost in a runoff to Hardberger in 2005, and as Rodriguez notes, he’s been running pretty much continuously since then. He was perceived as more style than substance back then, so I daresay he’ll work to address that this time around. Having open seat Mayoral races in two of the big cities here is going to make next year very interesting. Link via BOR.