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Richard Morrison

A closer look at county races, Part 1

In this series of entries, I’m going to take a trip through the local election results pages on some counties of interest, to get a closer look at how they went this year and how that compares to 2016. We know Dems didn’t make the kind of gains they hoped for in Congress or the Lege, but there are other races on the ballot. How did things look there?

Harris County: We know the basic story of Harris County, where Republicans have claimed to get their mojo back. I’m not going to re-litigate that, but I will note that while things were mostly at stasis at the countywide and legislative levels, Dems flipped JP Precinct 5, long held by Republicans, though Constable Precinct 5 remained Republican. Beto carried all eight JP/Constable precincts in 2018, and while Biden only carried six in 2020, there still remain opportunities for Dems to win offices currently held by Republicans in Harris County.

Tarrant County: At a macro level, Dems were far more competitive in judicial races in 2020 than they were in 2016. None of the statewide judicial candidates got as much as 41% of the vote in 2016, while the range for statewide judicials in 2020 was 46.13% to 47.91%. In 2016, Dems fielded only one candidate for a district court bench; he lost by 15 points. In 2020, Dems challenged in 9 of 11 district court plus one county court race, with all candidates getting between 46 and 48 percent. This is basically where Harris County Democrats were in 2004, with more candidates in these races.

A little farther down the ballot, and Democrats flipped two Constable offices, in Precincts 2 and 7. Neither Republican incumbent had been challenged in 2016.

Fort Bend County: We know the topline, that Hillary Clinton won Fort Bend County in 2016, by a 51-45 margin. But there was no downballot effect – none of the statewide Democratic candidates won a plurality (all statewide candidates were below fifty percent). None of the Courts of Appeals candidates won, and none of the countywide candidates won, though most were around 48 or 49 percent. State Rep. Phil Stephenson won the Fort Bend part of HD85 by six points. Republicans won back County Commissioner Precinct 1 by finally running an untainted candidate against two-term incumbent Richard Morrison. Fort Bend was on the precipice, but it seemed like it had been there before.

As we know, Democrats broke through in a big way in 2018, and 2020 was more of the same. It’s not just that Biden carried Fort Bend by over ten points. It’s that every statewide Dem took a majority in Fort Bend, as did every Courts of Appeals candidates and every countywide candidate. Dems did not win back CC1, though challenger Jennifer Cantu did a smidge better than Morrison had done, but they did win the Constable race in Precinct 4; this was an open seat, as previous incumbent Trever Nehls ran unsuccessfully for Sheriff. Nehls had been unopposed in 2016.

Bexar County: Bexar is reliably blue at this point, and Biden’s 58-40 win is almost exactly in line with the October countywide poll we got. The big difference I see between Bexar 2020 and Bexar 2016 is in the legislative races. Phillip Cortez won HD117 back in 2016 by two and half points after having been swept out in the 2014 debacle. He won in 2020 by over 13 points. Tomas Uresti won HD118 in 2016 by ten points; Leo Pacheco won it in 2020 by seventeen. Rebecca Bell-Metereau lost the Bexar portion of SBOE5 in 2016 by 42K votes; she lost it by 24K votes in 2020, which is to say by 18K fewer votes. She won the district by 17K total votes, mostly boosted by Travis County, but she needed it to be closer in Bexar and it was. By the same token, Sen. Carlos Uresti won the Bexar portion of SD19 over challenger Pete Flores in 2016 by 34K votes. Incumbent Pete Flores lost the Bexar portion of SD19 to Roland Gutierrez by 33K votes, and he needed that margin to be as good as it was considering how the rest of the district went for Flores by 23K; Uresti had won the rest of the district by 3K in 2016. However you feel about the 2020 election in Texas, you would feel much worse about it if Rebecca Bell-Metereau had lost and Pete Flores had hung on. So thank you, Bexar County.

Williamson County: WilCo made news in 2018 when Beto carried the county, with MJ Hegar doing the same in CD31. I’ll get to the 2020 results in a minute, but first let’s remind ourselves where things were in 2016. Trump won WilCo by nine points over Hillary Clinton, John Carter beat Mike Clark in CD31 by 19 points, other statewide Republicans led by 16 to 19 points, and Tom Maynard led in SBOE10 by 16 points. State Rep. Larry Gonzalez had only a Libertarian opponent in HD52, Rep. Tony Dale won HD136 by eleven points. Republicans running for countywide office were all unopposed. The one Democratic victory was for County Commissioner, Precinct 1, which Terry Cook took with 51%.

Fast forward to 2020. Biden won Williamson County by about a point and a half – more than ten points better than Clinton in 2016. As with Tarrant County, his win was a solo at the county level, but the Democratic tide was much higher. Hegar lost to John Cornyn by three points, Donna Imam by five in CD31, and the other statewide Dems trailed by three to seven points. Tom Maynard carried WilCo in SBOE10 again, but only by four points. Dems had flipped HDs 52 and 136 in the 2018 wave, and both freshmen Reps were easily re-elected, James Talarico by three points in HD52, and John Bucy by 10 in HD136. Dems lost the two District Court races they challenged, and they lost for County Attorney, but they did oust the scandal-tainted Sheriff, by a massive 12 points. Terry Cook was re-elected as County Commissioner in Precinct 1 with over 57%, and Dems won Constable Precinct 1, while coming close in Precincts 3 (losing by five) and 4 (losing by two). It’s not at all hard to see Williamson as the next Fort Bend.

The point of all this is twofold. One is a reminder that there are more races than just the state races, and there’s more ways to measure partisan strength than just wins and losses. The other is that these much less visible races that Dems are winning is exactly what Republicans were doing in the 80s and 90s and into the aughts. Every election it seemed like I was reading about this or that traditionally Democratic county that had gone all Republican. There is a trend here, and we’d be foolish to ignore it. To be sure, this is happening in fewer counties than with the Republican march of the previous decades, but there’s a lot more people in these counties. I’ll take population over land mass any day.

I’ll be back with a look at more counties next time. Let me know what you think.

UPDATE: While I was drafting this, I received a press release from the TDP congratulating three Democratic Sheriffs-elect, all of whom had won offices previously held by Republicans: Eric Fagan in Fort Bend, Mike Gleason in Williamson – both of which were mentioned in this post – and Joe Lopez of Falls County, which is adjacent to McLennan and Coryell counties to the east; basically, it’s east of Waco. Falls was Republican at the Presidential level, with Trump carrying it 4,177 to 1,899, so I assume there was some reason particular to that race that assisted Lopez in his victory.

Runoff reminder: County races

Previously: Statewide, Congress, SBOE and State Senate, State House.

There were a ton of contested county race primaries in Harris County, with all of the countywide offices except one HCDE position featuring at least three candidates. When the dust settled, however, there wree only a few races still ongoing, with one on Commissioners Court and one Constable race being the ones of greatest interest. Fort Bend County saw a lot of action as well, with two countywide races plus one Commissioners Court race going into overtime. Here’s a review of the races of interest.

Harris County – Commissioners Court, Precinct 3

This is the open seat left by long-tenured Steve Radack, which has always been a Republican stronghold but which has trended Democratic in recent years. Beto of course carried Precinct 3, by four points, after Hillary Clinton came close to winning it in 2016. Other statewide candidates (Mike Collier, Justin Nelson, Kim Olson) also won Precinct 3, though the Democratic countywide candidates from 2018 all fell short. It’s there for the taking, but it can’t be taken for granted. The top candidates to emerge from the large field of Democratic hopefuls were Diana Martinez Alexander and Michael Moore. Moore was the bigger fundraiser as of January – we’ll see soon how the current finance period has gone; Alexander’s January filing came in later, after I had published that post. Alexander is a grassroots favorite who has been super busy on Facebook, while Moore has the endorsements of incumbent Commissioners Adrian Garcia and Rodney Ellis, as well as the endorsement of the Chronicle. You can see other Democratic group endorsements on the invaluable Erik Manning spreadsheet. They participated in the first 2020 Democratic Candidates Facebook Debates here. My interview with Diana Alexander is here, and my interview with Michael Moore is here.

Harris County – Constable, Precinct 2

This is the race with the problematic incumbent and Not That Jerry Garcia. The thing you need to know is that in the end, the incumbent, Chris Diaz, was forced into a runoff against the good Jerry Garcia, who was listed on the primary ballot as “Jerry Garca (Harris County Lieutenant)”. Garcia led the way with 39% to Diaz’s 33%. If you live in Constable Precinct 2, please vote for Jerry Garcia in the runoff.

Harris County – Other runoffs

Justice of the Peace, Precinct 5, Place 1: Israel Garcia (48.1%) versus Roel Garcia (30.5%)

Constable, Precinct 3: Sherman Eagleton (incumbent, 47.5%) versus Ken Jones (16.1%)

Constable, Precinct 5: Randy Newman, who doesn’t appear to have a Facebook page (43.4%) versus Mark Alan Harrison (34.3%).

I confess, I know little about these race. Look at the Erik Manning spreadsheet to see who got what endorsements. Based on available information, I’d lean towards Eagleton, Israel Garcia, and Harrison, but please do your own research as well.

Those of you with keen eyes may have noticed there are two other unsettled Harris County races to discuss. Both of these will be decided by the precinct chairs in August. I’ll discuss them in a separate post.

Fort Bend County

County Attorney: Bridgette Smith-Lawson (45.2%) versus Sonia Rash (37.8%)
Sheriff: Geneane Hughes (35.2%) versus Eric Fagan (35.1%)
Commissioners Court, Precinct 1: Jennifer Cantu (41.8%) versus Lynette Reddix (25.6%)

The Sheriff candidates are seeking to replace incumbent Troy Nehls, currently in a nasty runoff for CD22. Nehls has not resigned from his position for reasons unknown to me. I presume he’ll do so if he clinches that nomination, but who knows what he’ll do if he doesn’t. Nehls is awful, either of these candidates would be a big upgrade. County Attorney (and also Tax Assessor) is an open seat whose incumbent has in fact announced his retirement. Commissioners Court Precinct 1 is a race against a first-term incumbent who had ousted Democrat Richard Morrison in 2016. I wrote about all the Fort Bend County races here, and unfortunately don’t have anything to add to that. I’d love to hear from someone who has a strong opinion in these races.

Travis County – District Attorney

Jose Garza (44.3%) versus Margaret Moore (incumbent, 41.1%)

As a bonus, this is the highest profile county race runoff. First term incumbent Margaret Moore faces former public defender Jose Garza in a race that will have national attention for its focus on police reform, with a side order of how sexual assault cases are handled thrown in. Garza has an impressive list of national endorsements, including Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and more recently Julian Castro. Austin has been one of the hotter spots for police violence, so this is a race that could have a big effect on how the reform movement moves forward.

Hope this has been useful for you. I’ll have a brief look at the judicial runoffs next to wrap this up.

After-deadline filing review: Fort Bend County

Fort Bend County had a big Democratic breakthrough in 2018 (though the gains weren’t fully realized, as some Republican incumbents were not challenged), but you could have seen it coming in 2016, when Hillary Clinton carried the county by almost seven points over Donald Trump. That did not extend to the downballot candidates, however, as all of the Republicans held on, but by very close margins; outgoing Sheriff Troy Nehls’ 52.05% was the high water mark for the county. With a full slate of candidates, a ringing victory in 2018, and four more years of growth, Fort Bend Dems look poised to continue their takeover of the county. Possibly helping them in that quest is the fact that none of the three countywide incumbents are running for re-election. Here’s a brief look at who the Dems have running in these races.

Previous entries in this series are for the greater Houston area, Congress, state races, the Lege, and the courts.

County Attorney

The first race we come to is Fort Bend County Attorney, where the outgoing incumbent is Roy Cordes, who has been in office since 2006. Cordes was not challenged in 2016. A fellow named Steve Rogers is unopposed in the Republican primary. (Former Harris County Attorney Mike Stafford, whom Vince Ryan ousted in 2008, had filed for this race but subsequently withdrew.)

I am thankful that the Fort Bend Democratic Party has a 2020 candidates webpage, because the first person listed for this office is David Hunter, for whom I could not find any campaign presence via my own Google and Facebook searching. (In case you ever wondered what the value of SEO was.) The searching I did do led to this video, in which Hunter explains his practice as a DUI attorney. Sonia Rash has a civil rights background and clerked in the 269th Civil Court in Harris County. Bridgette Smith-Lawson is the Managing Attorney for the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services Regions 5 and 6.

Sheriff

This is also an open seat, as incumbent Troy Nehls of “Fsck Trump bumper sticker” fame is one of a bazillion Republicans running for CD22. Someone smarter than me will have to explain why he hasn’t had to resign from office after making his announcement. Three Republicans are in the primary for Sheriff, including Troy Nehl’s twin brother Trever Nehls. Yeah, you really can’t make this stuff up.

There are three Democrats running: Eric Fagan, Geneane Hughes, and Holland Jones. I’m going to crib from this Chron story to tell you this much: “The Democratic primary features retired Houston Police officer and former president of the African American Police Officers’ League, Eric Fagan, U.S. Army veteran and former commander of criminal investigations for the Missouri City Police Dept. Geneane Hughes and U.S. Navy veteran Holland Jones, a former captain for the office of Harris County Precinct 7 Constable, who is also a licensed attorney currently working as an adjunct professor for Texas Southern University.” Without knowing anything more about them, all three would be a clear upgrade over Troy Nehls.

Tax Assessor

As previously noted, all of these offices are now open seats. Longtime incumbent Patsy Schultz, first elected in 2004, has retired. Commissioners Court appointed Carrie Surratt as a replacement, but she has apparently not filed to run this year. Four Republicans are on the ballot for this seat.

Two Democrats are running. Neeta Sane served two terms on the HCC Board of Trustees, stepping down at the end of her term in 2019 to run for this office. She had run for FB County Treasurer in 2006. She has degrees in finance and chemistry and is a Certified Life Coach, which is her current profession. Carmen Turner is a licensed property agent, and I can’t tell a whole lot more about her from her webpage.

Commissioners Court

Here we finally see Republican incumbents running for re-election. Vincent Morales is up for his first re-election bid in Precinct 1, and Andy Meyers, who’s been around forever, is up in Precinct 3. Dems have a 3-2 majority on the Court thanks to KP George winning the office of County Judge and Ken DeMerchant winning in Precinct 4 in 2018. It had been 3-2 Republican from 2008 through 2016, with Richard Morrison winning two terms in the Republican-leaning Precinct 1, then 4-1 GOP after Morales’ win in 2016. Precinct 1 is a definite pickup opportunity, though not as clear-cut as Precinct 4 was in 2018. I’d call it a tossup, and here I’ll admit I did not look at the precinct data from 2018, so we’ll just leave it at that. Precinct 3 is the Republican stronghold and I’d expect it to stay red, with a small chance of flipping.

Democrats running in Precinct 1 include Jennifer Cantu, an Early Childhood Intervention therapist who was the Democratic candidate for HD85 in 2018 (interview for that here); Lynette Reddix, who has a multifaceted background and has served as President of the Missouri City & Vicinity branch of the NAACP; Albert Tibbs, realtor, minister, and non-profit CEO; and Jesse Torres, who doesn’t have any web presence but appears to be a Richmond city commissioner and former Lamar Consolidated trustee. The sole candidate for the much more aspirational Precinct 3 is Hope Martin, an Air Force veteran and healthcare administrator.

There are also candidates for Constable and JP and the various courts, which I am going to skip. I still may come back and review the Harris County Constable and JP candidates if I have the time. As always, I hope this has been useful to you.

Fort Bend DA to retire

The end of an era, and an opportunity for change.

Fort Bend County District Attorney John Healey announced Friday that he will not seek re-election, marking an end to what will be 26 years in office, according to a news release.

Healey said he will retire at the end of his term in 2018 to spend time with his wife. He will be a few weeks shy of 64, he said in an interview.

“I’ve often said retirement is too often wasted on the elderly,” he said. “There’s a whole other phase of life that I want to be able to enjoy with my family.”

Healey first took office by judicial appointment Nov. 18, 1992, when Fort Bend County was a far cry from the bustling county it has become. He presided over the growth of the office from what was then 16 prosecutors to what is now 64, according to the release.

[…]

Healey won in 2014 with 58 percent of the vote. His term will end Dec. 31, 2018.

First, let me say that I wish DA Healy well in his retirement. From a quality of life perspective, I think he has the right idea. Politically speaking, this is a big opportunity for Democrats in Fort Bend, as it is surely easier to win an open seat rather than knock off an incumbent with no obvious demerits. Finding a candidate would be the first order of business; former two-term County Commissioner Richard Morrison comes to my mind, but I’m just speculating idly. Fort Bend Democrats have other races of interest next year – HD26, Commissioners Court Precinct 4, the other countywide offices; big parts of SD17 and CD22 are also in Fort Bend – but this is a definite prize. I’m sure it will draw serious interest.

Precinct analysis: Fort Bend Commissioners Court precincts

I have not done Fort Bend precinct analyses in the past because I don’t get easily-worked-with CSV-format canvass reports from them after elections. However, it turns out that their election returns page for this year has a “Reports” button on it from which one can download an Excel-format canvass report. It’s laid out differently than the Harris County reports, in a way that made this all a bit more labor-intensive, but I was able to work with it. I’ve got it in two posts, one for today on the Commissioners Court precincts, and one for tomorrow on the State Rep districts. So with that said, let’s dive on in with a look at the Presidential races from this year and 2012.


President - 2016

Pcnct    Rep     Dem    Lib   Grn   Rep %   Dem %   Lib %   Grn %
=================================================================
CC1   28,737  26,823  1,502   332  50.07%  46.73%   2.62%   0.58%
CC2   11,969  41,887    925   470  21.66%  75.81%   1.67%   0.85%
CC3   44,899  29,891  2,555   472  57.70%  38.41%   3.28%   0.61%
CC4   31,607  35,874  1,916   508  45.21%  51.32%   2.74%   0.73%


President - 2012

Pcnct    Rep     Dem    Lib   Grn   Rep %   Dem %   Lib %   Grn %
=================================================================
CC1   26,771  20,521    362    74  56.09%  43.00%   0.76%   0.16%
CC2   12,354  38,699    274   100  24.02%  75.25%   0.53%   0.19%
CC3   42,394  17,862    528   111  69.62%  29.33%   0.87%   0.18%
CC4   34,607  24,062    555   175  58.26%  40.51%   0.93%   0.29%

Looking at these numbers, your first instinct might be to ask how it is that Commissioner Richard Morrison lost his bid for re-election in Precinct 1. I would remind you that he won in 2012 against a candidate that had been disavowed by the Fort Bend County GOP after it was discovered he had voted in multiple locations in a previous election. I’ll also say again not to be too distracted by the Trump/Clinton numbers, since there were a fair amount of crossover votes. This will become apparent when we look at other county races in the Commissioners Court precincts. The bottom line was that this was the first time Morrison, who was elected in 2008 to succeed a scandal-plagued incumbent, faced a conventional, establishment-type candidate with no obvious baggage, and it was too much to overcome in a precinct that skews Republican. It’s a shame, because Morrison is a great guy who did a fine job as Commissioner, but we were basically playing with house money. Morrison is still a young guy who could certainly run for something else if he wanted to – County Judge is one obvious possibility – so I hope we’ll see him again.

The other point of interest is the Democratic growth in Precincts 3 and 4, especially 4, where Hillary Clinto got a majority of the vote. Again, there are crossover voters here, but as you’ll see in a minute, the growth is real. Precinct 4 will be up in 2018, so this is an obvious target of interest for Fort Bend Democrats. As with all population growth areas, ensuring that new residents are registered will be a key to any strategy, as will making new arrivals who are in line with Democratic values aware of the party’s presence while dispelling the myth that Fort Bend is a Republican stronghold. This growth has implications for the State Rep races as well, which we will get to in the next post.

Now let’s take a look at the contested county-level races, for some perspective on the partisan levels in each precinct.


District Judge,  240th Judicial District

Pcnct    Rep     Dem   Rep %   Dem %
====================================
CC1   31,249  25,475  55.09%  44.91%
CC2   13,490  41,211  24.66%  75.34%
CC3   50,214  26,881  65.13%  34.87%
CC4   36,630  32,260  53.17%  46.83%


District Judge,  400th Judicial District

Pcnct    Rep     Dem   Rep %   Dem %
====================================
CC1   31,481  25,299  55.44%  44.56%
CC2   13,570  41,177  24.79%  75.21%
CC3   50,401  26,694  65.38%  34.62%
CC4   36,803  32,186  53.35%  46.65%


Judge, County Court at Law No. 5

Pcnct    Rep     Dem   Rep %   Dem %
====================================
CC1   30,686  25,982  54.15%  45.85%
CC2   13,309  41,330  24.36%  75.64%
CC3   49,725  27,308  64.55%  35.45%
CC4   36,129  32,707  52.49%  47.51%


Sheriff

Pcnct    Rep     Dem   Rep %   Dem %
====================================
CC1   32,010  25,236  55.92%  44.08%
CC2   13,595  41,255  24.79%  75.21%
CC3   51,268  26,386  66.02%  33.98%
CC4   38,091  31,463  54.76%  45.24%

So as you can see, Precinct 1 is basically 55-45 Republican, which is close to what it was in 2012. Morrison lost by five points, so he did get some crossovers, just not enough to overcome the lean of the precinct. Republicans in Precinct 2 who didn’t want to vote for Trump went third party instead of crossing over for Hillary Clinton. Precinct 3 looks more like the Republican powerhouse it was in 2012, though as you can that while both Rs and Ds gained voters, Ds gained a handful more. That’s enough to reduce the Republican percentage of the vote, but it didn’t do much for the size of the deficit. The big difference in in Precinct 4, where Dems netted about a 6,000 vote gain to narrow the gap to about five points. That’s enough to make it an opportunity, but it’s still a challenge. I don’t know enough to have any specific advice for the Fort Bend folks, but the numbers are clear. Start the recruitment process as soon as possible, and look towards 2018.

Dems sweep Harris County

Hillary Clinton had a 100K lead in early voting in Harris County, and increased her lead as the night went on. The only countywide Republican who was leading early on was Mike Sullivan, but later in the evening, at the time when 80% of the Election Day vote was in, Ann Harris Bennett caught and passed him. Kim Ogg and Ed Gonzalez won easily, Vince Ryan was re-elected easily, and all Democratic judicial candidates won.

The HISD recapture referendum went down big, the Heights referendum to update the dry ordinance won, and Anne Sung will face John Luman in a runoff for HISD VII. Statewide, Clinton was trailing by about nine points, and with a ton of precincts still out was already at President Obama’s vote level from 2012. Dems appear to have picked up several State House seats, though not the SBOE seat or CD23. Clinton also carried Fort Bend County, though she had no coattails, and Commissioner Richard Morrison unfortunately lost.

I’m too stunned by what happened nationally to have anything else to say at this time. I’ll be back when I recover.

Interview with Fort Bend County Commissioner Richard Morrison

Richard Morrison

Richard Morrison

Fort Bend County Commissioner Richard Morrison is an old friend. He’s the first candidate I ever interviewed, on an old-fashioned tape recorder way back in 2003 as he was gearing up to challenge then-Rep. Tom DeLay in CD22. He fell short in that effort, but he gained a lot of respect and wound up on a path that led to him being elected to Commissioner’s Court in 2008. (Fun fact: Thanks to Morrison’s election, Fort Bend’s Commissioners Court has two Democrats on it, one more than Harris County’s does.) He’s thrived in a Republican-leaning precinct, and faces another challenging election this November with his usual combination of optimism, accomplishment, and strong grasp of the issues. Here’s what we talked about:

Interviews and Q&As from the primaries are on my 2016 Election page. I will eventually get around to updating it to include links to fall interviews.

The future of Fort Bend transit

Public transportation in Fort Bend County has grown quite a bit since its inception, and there’s a lot of potential for future growth if the pieces can be put into place.

On Tuesday, county leaders, staff and transit partners gathered in Richmond to celebrate the rapid evolution of the Fort Bend Public Transportation Department since it was formed 10 years ago. They marked projects that moved from the initially limited efforts of the 1990s, which benefited a few hundred people a month, into a system that serves tens of thousands of riders. Leaders also talked about what might be next for public transportation in the suburban county west of Houston.

“In 2003, we were providing 300 rides per month,” Patterson said. “This last six months, we transported 33,000 rides per month.”

This year, the transit department will create a master plan to outline priorities and possibilities through 2040, coordinating with the roads department to anticipate future needs.

“Where is the growth going to be in Fort Bend County? Will it be residential or commercial? What will the overlay of transportation needs be?” Transportation Director Paulette Shelton asked, listing the core questions to be considered as the plan is developed. “We pull out 37 buses every day to do service. If I look ahead five years, we’ll probably be around 60 or 70 buses.”

How the system expands will depend on “where the development happens and the needs in the cities,” she said.

County Judge Bob Hebert said he does not intend for the county to ever operate a major bus system with fixed routes, but still expects to add new services. The future of the department will hinge “to some extent on where Harris County goes,” he said.

Because Fort Bend’s future is linked to the wider region – with about 60 percent of residents working in Houston, according to Census figures – many transportation and roads projects will require coordination with Harris County and the Metropolitan Transit Authority, known as Metro.

Hebert said the most common question about public transit that he is asked is, “When are we going to have commuter rail?” He compared the undertaking to the construction of Fort Bend toll roads.

“They have to be tied into a bigger system,” he said. “When Harris County started building the Westpark Tollway, our Westpark Tollway became viable. It gave you a path somewhere people wanted to be in large numbers. We will not put in rail until we know for certain there is rail coming out to the Harris County line.”

Commissioner Richard Morrison lists a commuter rail out to Missouri City and along Highway 90 as a top priority, but said a more practical concern must be considered first: funding.

Here’s the FBPTD website. Note that their buses are “demand response service”, which means you call at least a day in advance to schedule a stop by your house or wherever, and they take you where you want to go as long as it’s within their service area. Sounds an awful lot like the Flex Zones in Metro’s reimagined bus network, which have caused so much anxiety. I wonder how well this service has worked for Fort Bend. Might be nice for their to be some reporting on that, to get a better feel for what Houston Flex Zone riders might expect.

As for commuter rail into Fort Bend, that may well hinge on the Metro/Culberson peace treaty, as working to secure funding for that line was among the goodies Rep. Culberson promised to work on. The Lege may need to get involved to authorize Metro to operate in Fort Bend, but if there is a plan in place to get that rail line going, I would expect such authorization to be a formality. Mostly, I’m glad that this is such a persistent question for Judge Hebert, as that is surely a key component to moving this along. For now, I’d say the ball is in Congress’ court, and there is some motion (finally) on a transportation bill, so we’ll see what happens.

Morrison’s challenge

I often said last year that I wanted to get through the 2014 elections before worrying too much about the 2015 ones. I feel the same way this year, and thus don’t plan to spend much time writing about 2016 elections. But some stories are too important not to comment on, and this is one of them.

Richard Morrison

Richard Morrison

Rosenberg Mayor Vincent M. Morales Jr. announced on Jan. 29 that he’s running for Precinct 1 Fort Bend County commissioner.

Incumbent Precinct 1 Commissioner Richard Morrison said he intends to run for re-election in 2016. The Democrat first won election to the position in November 2008.

In announcing his run for commissioner, Morales, in his second term as mayor of Rosenberg, cited his desire to continue his service in a greater capacity.

“My work for Rosenberg is not done; it has only just begun,” said Morales, who will run for county office as a Republican. “By serving as Precinct 1 commissioner, I can continue my focus on economic development and vital infrastructure on a larger scale. I am committed to making certain that our community will be a viable place to live, work and educate our children and grandchildren for years to come, and by serving as Precinct 1 commissioner, I can do just that.”

In his second term in office, Morrison said, “I’ve accomplished a lot.

“I’ve extended, widened and built a lot of roads in Precinct 1. I fought to make sure local contractors and businesses get Fort Bend County construction projects. I’ve done the best I can, along with other members of court, to run a very lean county government, so taxpayers get the most bang for their buck.”

Richard Morrison has long been one of my favorite people in politics. He hit the scene in 2004 when he ran a scrappy, underdog campaign against Tom DeLay in CD22; the interview I did with him in December of 2003 is the first I ever did for this blog. He took on the County Commissioner’s race in 2008, flipping the Republican seat by siding with locals who were unhappy with a proposed toll road in the area and winning large numbers of crossover votes in his home turf, the heavily Republican Greatwood development. He won re-election in 2012 against an opponent who was disavowed by the Fort Bend GOP after evidence surfaced that he had voted twice in an earlier election, once in Texas and once in Virginia.

The challenge is that Fort Bend Commissioners Precinct 1 has a decided Republican tilt. I pieced together precinct information from the Fort Bend election results page, and this is how it looked in the two races Morrison won.

2008 Candidate Votes Pct ========================= Straight R 14,414 Straight D 14,246 McCain 23,902 54.27 Obama 20,137 45.73 Shoemaker 23,059 54.21 Hollan 19,478 45.79 Ordeneaux 21,191 49.12 Morrison 21,948 50.88 2008 Candidate Votes Pct ========================= Straight R 18,843 Straight D 15,124 Romney 26,762 56.60 Obama 20,521 43.40 Mullinix 26,768 57.50 Petry 19,784 42.50 Fleming 22,970 49.26 Morrison 23,661 50.74

The second race in each listing above is a District Court race, which I included as a measure of the non-Presidential dropoff; as you can see, that was greater on the D side and thus was another obstacle for Morrison to overcome. In 2012, the base Republican vote grew by about 3,000 over 2008, while the Dem baseline remained the same. Morrison swung about 2,000 votes in 2008, nearly all coming from six Greatwood precincts, and he swung over 3,000 votes in 2012, outperforming other Dems in just about every box while again dominating his back yard.

The main danger for Morrison is that Morales, a successful politician in his own right, will represent a safe choice for Morrison’s Republican friends in Greatwood and elsewhere to vote for, much as Sarah Davis was for Ellen Cohen’s crossovers in 2010. I’m not sufficiently plugged in to Fort Bend politics to know how good a job Morales did in Rosenberg or how much appeal he’ll have overall, but he only needs to get a few of those wayward Republican Morrison backers to come home in order to win. Morrison, who can win on the strength of Greatwood alone if countywide D turnout is good enough, needs to vigorously defend his home turf while working to boost his party’s numbers elsewhere. It won’t be easy, but it is doable. Whether Battleground Texas is a factor next year or not, this is exactly the kind of small ball that we should be playing. You want a local race to invest in for 2016, this one should be high on your list.

Pro tip: Vote only once

Oops.

Bruce Fleming

After the Fort Bend Star received a tip about the Republican candidate for Fort Bend County Precinct 1 Commissioner, the Star conducted an in-depth review of Bruce Fleming and his wife, Nancy Fleming’s voting record. Our research found that for several years Fleming voted both in Bucks County, Pa. and in Fort Bend County.

Although Fleming claims to be a 20-year resident of Texas, he first registered to vote in Bucks County, Pa. in 1992 and still owns a home there. He is listed as an active voter Bucks County.

Fleming first voted in Fort Bend County in the general election of 2006. He voted early in Fort Bend then voted absentee in Bucks County, Pa. in the same general election.

In 2008 he voted absentee in the general election in Bucks, County, Pa but in Fort Bend County he voted in person in the Democratic Primary and again in the 4/8/2008 primary run off. He also voted early in the November general election in Fort Bend.

In 2010 he voted absentee in the general election in Bucks County and in Fort Bend County he voted early in both the primary and the general election. Fleming voted in person in the 2010 primary in Fort Bend County and voted early in the primary run off.

The Star has been unable to get the primary voting records in Bucks County for 2012, but those records should be available next week.

According to Fleming, his wife, Nancy, is seldom seen in Fort Bend as she stays in their home in Pennsylvania in order to keep her job there. She usually votes in every general election in Pennsylvania. 2010 records indicate she voted in the general election in both Bucks County (absentee) and the general election in Fort Bend (also absentee).

However, in 2012 with her husband a candidate, she voted in Fort Bend in both the Republican primary (in person) and then absentee in the primary run off. She is classified as an active registered voter in both Pennsylvania and Fort Bend County, Texas.

The Star contacted Bruce Fleming to ask him why he had voted in both states in the same elections for at least three different elections. According to Fleming he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2007 and he was back and forth between Houston and Bucks County for treatment. He seemed to indicate that was why he voted in both states. However, our research shows that Fleming started voting in both states in the 2006 general election and continued to vote in both states through 2010. Again, the 2012 primary records for Pennsylvania are not available yet. Fleming told the Star that he would have to talk to his wife and get back to us. He didn’t.

Ouch. Fleming is the Republican candidate for Fort Bend County Commissioner Precinct 1, against Richard Morrison. Fleming’s vote in the 2008 Democratic primary was aberrant – as Juanita demonstrated, he’s a consistent Republican primary voter otherwise. One presumes he was among those who voted in the Dem primary that year at the exhortation of Rush Limbaugh, to mess with things. Anyway, the Chron story ties this back to a larger theme.

“I’m, frankly, shocked at the double, secret life that my opponent has been living for the past six years,” said Fleming’s Democratic opponent, incumbent Commissioner Richard Morrison. “I know a lot of precinct chairs that are Republicans here in Fort Bend County, and I know them to be hard-working, they play by the rules and they would never stoop to anything like this.”

Morrison and fellow Fort Bend Democrats took aim at Catherine Engelbrecht, founder and president of True the Vote, a Houston-based tea party group dedicated to combating voter fraud nationwide and pushing for voter photo identification. Engelbrecht lives in Fort Bend’s Precinct 1.

“While local and national Republican leaders were tilting at the windmills of imaginary voter fraud, real voter fraud was taking place under their noses,” said Fort Bend County Democratic Chairman Steve Brown. “It demonstrates that the Republicans’ crusade against voter fraud is either disingenuous or ill- conceived – maybe both – to be totally unaware of a serial fraudulent voter like Fleming while aggressively harassing little old ladies attempting to vote in Briargate (a Houston neighborhood in Fort Bend County).”

The irony sure is thick, isn’t it? The story has a fairly limp response from some TTV person, because let’s face it, people like Fleming aren’t who they’re interested in. Additional coverage from the Fort Bend Star is here, a little gloating from Juanita is here, further commentary from FBCDP Chair Steve Brown about what protecting the integrity of the vote really means is here, and PDiddie has more.

Crabb River Road and FM762

Fort Bend County Commissioner Richard Morrison emailed me the following link from his blog:

I am seeking the support of my neighbors in Greatwood, Tara, Canyon Gate, Bridlewood Estates, Brazos Lakes and Brazos Gardens to widen Crabb River Road and FM 762 as it passes by the new high school. The project is more fully described below.

I don’t know the area or the roads in question, so I can’t comment on this. I’m passing it along for those who do live or work around there and who might be affected by this. Please give your feedback on this to Commissioner Morrison by email at [email protected], or call his office at 281-344-9400. Thanks very much.

Morrison speaks on the Grand Parkway

Fort Bend County Commissioner Richard Morrison writes about the recently-greenlighted Grand Parkway Segment E and the possibility that stimulus funds could be used to fund what will become a toll road.

If Segment E is funded from the stimulus money and finally constructed, exorbitant tolls from this segment will be used to finance and construct the remaining segments in Liberty, Montgomery, Brazoria, Chambers, and Galveston Counties. That means the citizens of Fort Bend County and North-west Harris County will be paying for those segments even though they never drive on them. From a mobility standpoint many of these remaining segments are useless. Miles and miles of the remaining pieces will cross open prairie where no one lives, will have little or no effect on traffic and are not needed. When our transportation dollars from Washington D.C. are desperately needed to get people to and from our population centers, it only seems reasonable that the federal stimulus money should be spent on actual mobility projects.

There’s more, so check it out. On a related note, the Observer has a report from that rally at the Capitol that urged TxDOT to slow down and get more public input on how and where it should be allocating those funds. And quit pissing everybody off while they’re at it.