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SD13

Filing period preview: SBOE, Senate, House

Previously: Congress, and Statewide. As before, I am using the Patrick Svitek spreadsheet as my primary reference.

Buckle up, there’s a lot to talk about here. I’m going to limit my discussion of State House races to the greater Houston area.

SBOE: There are three SBOE seats on the ballot that were carried by Beto in 2018. Winning all three would give Democrats am 8-7 majority on this famously flaky board. One of these seats in within Harris County, and that’s SBOE6, where Michelle Palmer and Debra Kerner have been in for some time.

State Senate: Unlike 2018, there’s really only one competitive district on the ballot, and that’s SD19, the seat Dems fumbled away in the special election. State Rep. Roland Gutierrez and Xochil Peña Rodriguez, daughter of former Rep. Ciro Rodriguez, are in. Despite the self-own in 2018, the district is basically 55-45 Dem, with a bit of variance on either end. Beto took it by 15 points, but even Lupe Valdez cleared fifty percent. A return to normal partisan behavior should make Pete Flores a temporary Senator.

Democratic incumbents Carol Alvarado (SD06) and Borris Miles (SD13) do not have primary opponents as yet. I tend to think someone will run against Miles after those harassment allegations against him were reported, but if so it will likely be a newcomer. One other Dem who both needs and has primary opponents is Eddie Lucio; I discussed Ruben Cortez and Sara Stapleton-Barrera, his known opponents, here. SD29 in El Paso is open following the retirement of Jose Rodriguez, with State Rep. Cesar Blanco the only contender to succeed him so far.

The two Republican-held seats in the Houston area have Dem challengers. For SD04, mostly in Montgomery County, there’s Jay Stittleburg, who ran for Montgomery County Judge in 2018. Griffin Winkworth is listed in the spreadsheet as having filed a designation of Treasurer. SD11 has two contenders: Margarita Ruiz Johnson, who was a candidate for CD22 in 2018 but did not advance to the runoff, and Susan Criss, former District Court judge in Galveston County and candidate for HD23 in 2014. Neither district is particularly competitive – Beto got 41.5% in SD11, but most Republicans carried it by 20 or more.

State House: Let’s start with the districts that don’t have Dem challengers yet. As noted, this is limited to the greater Houston area. You can peruse the spreadsheet at your leisure for other districts.

HD03 (Montgomery/Waller)
HD15 (Montgomery)
HD16 (Montgomery)
HD18 (Liberty)
HD23 (Galveston)
HD24 (Galveston)
HD29 (Brazoria)
HD85 (Fort Bend/Wharton/Jackson)
HD127 (Harris)
HD129 (Harris)
HD133 (Harris)
HD150 (Harris)

HDs 29 (which originally had a Dem who later withdrew) and 127 were the only ones in 2018 that went unchallenged. HD29 in particular is a district of interest, as it was a 47% Beto district in 2018.

Now for Republican-held districts that do have Dem challengers, at least according to the spreadsheet.

HD25 (Brazoria, the now-open Dennis Bonnen seat) – Someone named J. Patrick Henry, whom I cannot conclusively identify.
HD26 (Fort Bend) – Sarah DeMerchant, the 2018 candidate; Rish Oberoi; Suleman Lalani.
HD28 (Fort Bend) – We all know about Eliz Markowitz, right?
HD126 (Harris) – Natali Hurtado, the 2018 candidate.
HD128 (Harris) – Josh Markle, who got a nice fundraising boost from Beto after his little tiff with incumbent Briscoe Cain over automatic weapons.
HD130 (Harris) – Bryan Henry.
HD134 (Harris) – Ann Johnson, the 2012 candidate; Ruby Powers; Lanny Bose, the most recent entrant.
HD138 (Harris) – Akilah Bacy; Josh Wallenstein, who was a candidate in the primary for HCDE at large in 2018.

Two Democratic incumbents so far have primary opponents, Alma Allen in HD131 (Carey Lashley) and Garnet Coleman in HD147 (Aurelia Wagner). Both always seem to draw primary opponents, for whatever the reason. Ron Reynolds in HD26 usually draws one as well, for reasons that are more clear. I note that the spreadsheet lists Richard Bonton as a Republican opponent for Harold Dutton in HD142. Bonton ran against Dutton in the Dem primary in 2018.

We can’t end this conversation without bringing up HD148. I fully expect Anna Eastman to win the special election runoff, which is most likely be on December 14, the same day as the city of Houston runoffs. It doesn’t have to be on the 14th – Greg Abbott sets the runoff date, and he has some discretion. The last time we had a special election for a State Rep seat in an odd year was 2005 with the election in HD143, and that runoff was held on the same date as the city runoffs. Not a guarantee, but a data point. In any event, whatever happens in that race, there’s no reason to believe that some other candidates won’t file for the primary in HD148 as well. Any of the runners up may conclude that this was a wonky election, and that maybe they lost some votes to not-that-Adrian-Garcia. For sure, the primary will have a very different electorate, and Anna Eastman will not be very well known to them. I will be a little surprised if Eastman has the primary to herself.

Last but not least in this series: county races. I don’t get to lean on the spreadsheet for that one.

Once more on HD146

Christopher Hooks from the Observer was at Saturday’s festivities, and he files his report.

Shawn Thierry

Shawn Thierry

And on Saturday, 24 precinct chairs met in a small room full of folding chairs at the Sunnyside Multi-Service Center in south Houston to pick Miles’ replacement. They adjudicated a fierce contest between [Shawn] Thierry and Erica Lee Carter, member of the Harris County Board of Education and, more importantly, daughter of longtime Houston congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee.

Most years see no races resolved this way in Houston, but this year, there have been five such elections, including two minor judicial races. The campaigns to win them are very unusual. With the public completely out of the picture, candidates focus herculean efforts on pleasing the personal whims of precinct chairs, minor party functionaries who ordinarily have very little say in anything. And because Democratic nominees are essentially guaranteed a win in November in the five races so far resolved, and because incumbents can last a long time, this summer’s votes may be the last contested election Ellis, Miles and Thierry ever face.

[…]

Finally, the vote. In the first round of ballots, Blackmon took one chair, leaving Thierry with 12 and Lee Carter with 11. The lone Blackmon supporter, Craig Holtzclaw, would have to re-vote in the second round and act as a potential tiebreaker.

Bizarrely, committees like this are so rarely formed that party laws don’t really have any guidance about what to do in the event of a tied vote, apart from running the vote over and over again. If Holtzclaw had voted for Lee Carter in the second round, things could have gotten messy.

But he picked Thierry, who will now be heading to Austin soon with a sweeping mandate of two votes. Lee Carter’s dejected supporters left the room, and Thierry’s gathered to pray together, thanking God for the guidance he had shown members of the Harris County Democratic Party.

Afterwards, I talked to Holtzclaw, the tiebreaker, who said he had taken his responsibility seriously, talking to all three candidates for more than an hour apiece. “This is a unique opportunity to practice republican deliberation — as in, a real republic,” he said. During the interrogations, he had asked them to recount their personal stories, their accomplishments, dreams and hopes, “and then I gave them a long sermon on what I believe,” and measured their beliefs to his.

Holtzclaw made a decent case for what seems on the surface like a foolish system. He held, it turned out, the fate of House District 146 in his hands, and might have just selected its representation in Austin for many years. And he had done his homework.

But what is it Holtzclaw believes, exactly? “I am a LaRouche Democrat,” he said, as in yet another acolyte of the infamous semi-cult leader who thinks Obama is Hitler, has argued that the Queen of England controls the global drug trade, and who wants to colonize space. Ah.

Holtzclaw said he had voted for the candidates who communicated to him that they were willing to take elements of the LaRouche platform to Austin, namely, telling all those tea-party Texas Republicans that we need “big government investment in infrastructure.” That’s what LaRouche calls “the science of physical economy.”

Blackmon and Thierry, he said, had seemed to embrace that line more than Lee Carter. And that’s why she lost, in part.

See here for my writeup from Sunday. Let me start by noting that the same provision of electoral law cited by Gerry Birnberg to settle the tie for convention chair would have applied in the event of a tie between Thierry and Carter as well, which is to say that the winner would have been determined by a coin toss. Roll your eyes if you want, but it’s there in the law, and if you can think of a fairer way of resolving an electoral tie than that, I’m all ears.

Hooks’ article got shared around quite a bit yesterday, with no small amount of snarky commentary from people whom I did not see at any of these precinct chair meetings, all with something pithy to say about “turnout” and “process”. Let me point out that 24 out of 26 precinct chairs in attendance represents 92% turnout, which I’m pretty sure would beat any other election in recent memory you’d care to find. It beats the pants off of the usual turnout levels for special elections and their runoffs, which often struggle to break into double digits, and which draw the same kind of disdainful remarks about apathy and disengagement and so on and so forth. We get it already. At least the precinct chairs bothered to show up.

And though I used similar language in my own report, I don’t care for the framing that this one chair picked the next Representative. He put Shawn Thierry over the top, but she’d gotten to the top without him. Everybody else’s vote meant as much to her election, his just happened to be the last one counted.

Finally, as far as who will or won’t face competitive races going forward, I tend to agree that Rodney Ellis won’t see too many as Commissioner. Which is to say, he won’t face any more than El Franco Lee did, or that Ellis himself did as Senator. Borris Miles won’t face the voters again till 2020, and I feel confident saying that people will be watching him, to see if he can harness his considerable talents and keep his demons under control. The answers to those questions will determine whether he can coast next time or not. As for Thierry, I’ll say again that I fully expect her to be challenged in 2018. There’s no shortage of politicos in that district, and the obscure path she took to win the seat this time means that she hasn’t faced a true test there yet. I will be surprised if she gets to skate in two years.

HD146 nomination process to take place on August 6

Mark your calendars.

Borris Miles

Rep. Borris Miles

Last Saturday, State Rep. Borris Miles secured the Democratic nomination to replace Senator Rodney Ellis for Senate District 13. As a result, Rep. Miles will have to vacate his seat in House District 146. Precinct chairs will convene again to select a replacement nominee for House District 146.

The replacement process will take place at the House District 146 Executive Committee Meeting on Saturday, August 6, 2016 at 10 AM. The event is open to the public, however only precinct chairs that reside in the district are allowed to nominate.

House District 146 Executive Committee Meeting
Sunnyside Multi-Service Center (map)
August 6, 2016
10:00 AM-12 PM
9314 Cullen Blvd
Houston, TX 77051

Nominations will be accepted from and voted on by the precinct chairs in attendance at the August 6th meeting. The replacement candidate does not have to register or announce a candidacy; there is no legal filing process. However, any individuals interested in the vacancy are encouraged to contact the Harris County Democratic Party Headquarters to complete an Unofficial Declaration of Interest Form.

This form helps HCDP keep track of all interested candidates and brings some organization to the process. Candidates listed below have either given written notice or expressed interest in the HD 146 seat. There may be other individuals interested in running. Here are the potential candidates:

1. Erica Lee Carter

2. Larry Blackmon

3. Valencia L. Williams

4. Rashad L. Cave

5. Shawn Thierry

6. James Donatto

I should be able to make it to this. Here’s what I can tell you about the candidates:

Erica Lee Carter is the HCDE Trustee in Precinct 1, elected in 2012. Here’s the interview I did with her for that primary. If she wins the nomination and is subsequently elected in November, the HCDE Board would select a new member to fill her seat until her term would be up at the end of 2018. And yes, if you didn’t know, Carter is the daughter of US Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee.

Larry Blackmon has been a candidate for City Council a few times, most recently in 2015 for At Large #4. I have not done any interviews with him, but there are a couple of links to Q&As he did elsewhere on my Election 2015 page.

– Valencia L. Williams – I got nothing.

Rashad Cave – Per his bio, Cave is a “Motivational Speaker, businessman, entrepreneur, and father”.

Shawn Thierry was the runnerup for the 507th Family District Court; her Q&A for that is here. She was supported by the Mostyns during her run for the 507th; we’ll see if that translates to this election.

James Donatto II is as noted before a board member of the Greater Houston Black Chamber, and his father is a committee chair on the Houston Southeast Management District.

There are not a lot of precinct chairs in HD146 – I believe the number I heard at the SD13 event was 27 – so to say the least this will be a tight process. If you have anything to add about any of these candidates, please leave a comment.

Miles wins SD13 nomination

Borris Miles

Rep. Borris Miles

And so we gathered again to pick a nominee to fill an open slot on the ballot, though at least this time the “we” who did the actual picking did not include me. I went to observe, say Hi, gather intelligence, and just generally enjoy the process. if you didn’t know anything about that process and you assumed this was an open election, you would have expected Rep. Senfronia Thompson to do very well, as she had the most T-shirt-clad (and most vocal) supporters present. Nearly all of those people were in the spectators’ section, however – the distribution of people wearing yellow Thompson shirts and people wearing white Borris Miles shirts was much more even among the precinct chairs. Ronald Green and James Joseph were also in attendance, but neither had supporters of that easily identifiable visibility.

The process officially started at around 11 AM, an hour after the announced time, to allow straggling precinct chairs to arrive and participate. A total of 84 chairs, out of 96 total, were in attendance. A woman I did not recognize but was told was from Fort Bend was the temporary chair (appointed, I presume, by TDP Chair Gilbert Hinojosa, who was also present) who called the meeting to order and after an invocation and the Pledge of Allegiance, asked for nominations for a presiding chair to replace her. Nat West, past candidate for Commissioners Court, was nominated and approved unanimously. A secretary whose name I did not catch was also nominated and approved unanimously. Between this and the lack of any parliamentary maneuvers, we were well on your way towards a smoother and quicker resolution than last time.

Four candidates were nominated – Thompson, Miles, Green, and Joseph. Each was given three minutes to speak, which they had agreed upon beforehand, with straws drawn to determine speaking order. Thompson emphasized her experience, accomplishments, and relationships, while dismissing concerns about losing her seniority in the House (“that wasn’t an issue with Sen. Ellis leaving for Commissioners Court”) and age (“take that up with God, who has blessed me with good health”). Joseph, who had the toughest act to follow, rhymed his surname James with “change”. Three times. Miles played up his connections to the district, including the Fort Bend part of it, which he characterized as being neglected, as well as his more combative style. Green talked about his time in city office and more or less explicitly placed himself between Thompson’s “walk from one chamber to another” experience and Miles’ “sharp elbows”.

As with the other nomination processes, voting was done by standing division of the house, and it was quickly clear that Miles had the advantage. A cheer erupted from his batch of precinct chairs as they reached the majority point. In the end, Miles had 49 votes to Thompson’s 30 and Green’s 3; either one chair didn’t vote or the true count was 83 and not 84. As it became obvious what was happening, Thompson and Green walked across the room from their supporters’ areas to congratulate and embrace Miles; the final count was announced shortly thereafter.

Here’s the Trib story on the vote. As the sun rises in the east and the mercury rises in the summer, so began the next race, to fill MIles’ slot on the ballot for HD146. The candidates who had supporters and some form of campaign materials present included HDCE Trustee Erica Lee Carter, former judicial candidate Shawn Thierry, Greater Houston Black Chamber board member James Donatto II, whose father is a committee chair on the Houston Southeast Management District, and Rashad Cave, about whom I know nothing. There may be others, which ought to make for an interesting vote given that there are 27 total precinct chairs in HD146. That process may not take place for four weeks, on August 12, due to the DNC convention overlapping the August 5 weekend. I don’t have official word on that just yet, so don’t go marking your calendars till someone makes a formal announcement. In the meantime, congratulations to presumptive Sen. Borris Miles, and best of luck to everyone lining up in HD146.

UPDATE: Here’s the Chron story on the SD13 nomination process.

Today’s the day for SD13

Sen. Rodney Ellis

Sen. Rodney Ellis

Feels like we’ve been here before, doesn’t it? Today is the day for the Senate precinct convention in SD13, in which a nominee for that office to replace Sen. Rodney Ellis will be chosen. There are 96 precinct chairs in total across Harris and Fort Bend Counties, and we know the basic process by now. The main difference here is that as this district spans two counties, the TDP is the entity running the show. I doubt there will be as much parliamentary maneuvering as there was on June 25, mostly because there just hasn’t been enough time for the kind of organization to make that happen, but we’ll see.

A total of four candidates for SD13 have made themselves known, though I personally doubt more than three will receive a nomination. My guess is that this comes down to Rep. Borris Miles versus Rep. Senfronia Thompson, and I can make a case for either as the frontrunner. If it goes to a runoff and I’m right about these two being in the lead, then the big question is whether Ronald Green has given any guidance to his supporters about a second choice. At the convention for choosing the Commissioners Court nominee, all of Dwight Boykins’ supporters moved to Gene Locke’s side after Boykins conceded, at least as far as I could tell. This would have been a difference-maker if Ellis had not already secured a majority.

Once a new nominee for SD13 is chosen, the next question will be whether we need to do this one more time, in either HD141 or HD146. At this point, I have very little idea who may be circling around either seat in the event the opportunity arises, though I have heard some chatter that Boykins is looking at HD146. I will be interested to see who is there today, ready to hand out push cards or whatever. I’ll have a report from the convention tomorrow, which I am planning to attend, thankfully as a spectator and not a participant. PDiddie, who lives in HD146 and expects Rep. Miles to win, has more.

Chron overview of SD13

Not much new here.

Sen. Rodney Ellis

Sen. Rodney Ellis

Amid frantic wooing of Democratic precinct chairs, the unconventional sprint to succeed state Sen. Rodney Ellis is boiling down to an argument over tenure: Is it better to move a seasoned legislator to the Senate, or preserve House experience by sending a relative newcomer to the upper chamber?

State Rep. Senfronia Thompson argues the former, touting her 44 years in Austin, as former Houston City Controller Ron Green makes a case for the latter.

Ten-year state Rep. Borris Miles casts himself as the Goldilocks of the bunch, seeking to leverage his experience while asserting that Democrats would lose too much in the House by promoting Thompson.

[…]

The district’s per capita income was less than $20,000 as of 2014, Census data shows, $8,000 below that of Houston. The area also has lower educational attainment, with just 22 percent of those ages 25 and older having earned a bachelor’s degree, compared with 30 percent in Houston.

“We need help with these schools out here,” Sunnyside precinct chair Tina Mosley said, arguing for increased funding.

The Texas Supreme Court ruled in May that the state’s school finance system – which seeks to ease wide funding disparities between districts by redistributing property tax revenue from wealthy districts to poorer ones – is constitutional, despite calling it “Byzantine” and “undeniably imperfect.”

That case emerged out of Texas lawmakers’ decision in 2011 to slash the state’s public education spending by $5.4 billion to balance the budget, though the Legislature restored much of that funding two years later.

“I agree with the (state) Supreme Court that we haven’t done a good job of funding our schools in the state of Texas,” said Miles, whom Mosley is backing. “The financial base of each independent area should dictate the type of education and the quality of education that goes into those communities. I don’t think we should be robbing from inner city schools to throw to the rural area schools. Our tax base is here. We need to be spending that money … right here.”

Miles said he is also focused on expanding re-entry programs for juvenile offenders and curbing police brutality, through efforts such as increasing penalties for police officers who violate residents’ civil rights.

Thompson and Green, meanwhile, listed boosting education funding as a top concern but did not specify remedies.

Here’s the last race overview, for comparison. There was an HCDP lunchtime meet-the-candidates event yesterday, and at least according to the email they sent out about it, there’s a fourth person in the race, James Joseph, who was a candidate for District B in 2011. Of course, as we know from the County Commissioner experience, that only applies if someone nominates nominates him at the convention on Saturday.

Rep. Miles said in the article that he has the support of a majority of the precinct chairs. I’m not involved in the race and have no insight into how it’s going, but his district is entirely within SD13, so if he’s got the support of most of them it’s plausible. What I do know is that it mostly doesn’t matter what any of them believe or aim to do about education or criminal justice reform or whatever. Not because they’re insincere but because Dan Patrick runs the Senate and he’s unlikely to let any Democratic-freshman-written bills of substance get anywhere. Whoever wins will still have the opportunity to get stuff done – even Senators in the minority have their share of clout – but it’s best to keep expectations modest. I’m going to try to attend the convention on Saturday, and I’ll have a report on how it went on Sunday.

Endorsement watch: The Chron for Rep. Thompson

The Chron endorses Rep. Senfronia Thompson in SD13, though they spend most of their time attacking Rep. Borris Miles.

State Rep. Senfronia Thompson

State Rep. Senfronia Thompson

In 2008 [Rep. Miles] was indicted (and later acquitted) for deadly conduct in a bizarre scenario that had him accused of crashing a holiday party at the St. Regis Hotel flashing a gun, threatening the host, and forcibly kissing a married woman on the mouth. In 2010, he had a constable call on him for illegal electioneering. Last year he tussled with a public safety officer after trying to force his way into a private dining room at an Austin restaurant. He went for years without revealing his personal business interests in violation of state law, and failed to maintain a proper certificate of occupancy for his cigar bar, Our Legends, a popular hangout for politicians and the politically connected.

Those political connections seem to come easily for Miles. As the owner of an insurance agency, the state representative has had contracts with the Houston Independent School District, Houston Community College and the city of Houston.

Miles told the Houston Chronicle editorial board that he earned these contracts before his election to public office in 2006. Legal or otherwise, the fact that a state representative’s private company is underwritten by taxpayer-funded institutions perpetuates the image that elected officials have an insider track to the public trough. That image of impropriety is only underscored by the fact that, while selling insurance to the school district, he maintained a business relationship with the husband of one HISD board member and arranged vacations to Costa Rica for another board member under the pretense of studying medical treatment for teachers in the Central American nation.

Is this really the behavior that Democrats want to reward? Is this the image that they want to promote? We hope not.

[…]

However, we endorse state Rep. Senfronia Thompson for Senate District 13, which stretches from northeast Houston to Fort Bend County.

Mrs. T, as she is known, was first elected to the House in 1972, and since then she has become a moral force in Austin. The longest-serving woman or African-American in Texas legislative history, Thompson has made it her personal duty to defend the “little dogs” of our state by raising the minimum wage, passing a hate-crime bill to protect gays and lesbians, requiring insurers to cover women’s health, supporting rape victims and preventing racial profiling.

Texas Monthly has described Mrs. T as a “guardian angel of the process,” standing at the front of the House chamber during debate to check over proposed amendments and ensure that nobody tries to pull a fast one.

This is the sort of experience and dedication that Texas Democrats should want to see in the Senate.

Guess they don’t like Rep. Miles, then. I do like Rep. Miles, but he has his baggage. The Chron leads off their editorial by pointing out that it’s harder for Democrats to make a case about Republican malfeasance if we’re not holding our own accountable. It’s a valid point, though I’d argue that the bill of particulars they lay out here doesn’t exactly add up to a statewide officeholder being indicted for three felonies. Be that as it may, I’m sure I’d be taking all this into account if I were in SD13. I’m not, so I’m going to take the easy way out here. I suspect people are aware of the candidates’ histories as well as their strengths and capabilities. We’ll find out on Saturday how they weigh it all together.

Endorsement watch: Labor for Thompson, the Mayor for Miles

From the inbox:

Rep. Senfronia Thompson

Rep. Senfronia Thompson

The Texas Gulf Coast Area Labor Federation, AFL-CIO today announced their support of Senfronia Thompson for State Senator District 13.

“Our unions screened two candidates for Senate District 13 — Representatives Senfronia Thompson and Borris Miles,” said Zeph Capo, President of the Area Labor Federation. “Both candidates have been steadfast allies in our efforts to give workers a voice on the job, raise wages for all, adequately fund public services, and defend civil rights. Ultimately, Thompson’s deep experience and long record as a champion for working families led us to back her.”

“Over her twenty-two terms of public service, Senfronia Thompson has been an energetic and consistent advocate of initiatives to help better the lives of working families,” said John Patrick, President of the Texas AFL-CIO. “She is one of the most reliable, influential, and effective leaders with whom I have ever worked. Her knowledge of how state government works is what sets her apart from the other candidates.”

“Representative Thompson has the integrity, the vision, and the will to advocate for all of SD 13’s constituents. Labor will work hard to get her elected to office and help her achieve that goal,” added Hany Khalil, Executive Director of the Area Labor Federation.

The release, which came out on Thursday, is here. It was followed on Friday by this:

Rep. Borris Miles

Rep. Borris Miles

Dear Fellow Democrat,

Please join me in supporting Borris Miles for State Senate, District 13.

With the departure of Senator Rodney Ellis to join Commissioners Court, we need to make sure that we have an energetic warrior for the people representing us in the State Senate. That’s my friend and former House colleague, Borris Miles.

I’ve worked with Borris for years and watched his commitment and skill in moving our Democratic priorities forward.

From giving misguided kids a second chance at a better life, to doubling fines for outsiders who dump their trash in our neighborhoods, to increasing access to health care and expanding educational opportunities for us all – Borris gets the job done.

Believe me, it’s tough getting things done as a Democrat in a Republican-controlled legislature. But that’s exactly what our communities deserve.

I’m for Borris because Borris is a warrior for the people. That’s why I respectfully ask you to cast your vote for Borris as the Democratic Party’s nominee for State Senate, District 13.

Warm regards,

Mayor Sylvester Turner

But wait! There’s still more!

Thompson, who first was elected in 1972, has picked up a slew of endorsements from area Democratic congressmen and state legislators.

They include U.S. Reps. Al Green and Gene Green, as well as state Reps. Alma Allen, Garnet Coleman, Harold Dutton, Jessica Farrar, Ana Hernandez, Ron Reynolds, Hubert Vo, Armando Walle and Gene Wu.

Fort Bend County Commissioner Grady Prestage and the Texas Gulf Coast Area Labor Federation and the also have endorsed Thompson, among others.

[…]

Miles also touted Dutton’s support, in addition to that of former Mayor Annise Parker, state Sen. John Whitmire and state Rep. Jarvis Johnson, among others.

Dutton could not immediately be reached for comment to clarify which candidate he has in fact backed.

Asked if he has received any endorsements, Green said he is focused on earning precinct chairs’ support.

I’m a little surprised at how active Mayor Turner has been in intra-Democratic elections so far. Mayor Parker was a lot more circumspect, and Mayor White basically recused himself from party politics for his six years in office. I guess I’m not that surprised – the Lege was his bailiwick for a long time – and while these family fights often get nasty, I’m sure he’s fully aware of the pros and cons of getting involved. Whatever the case, this race just got a lot more interesting.

More on the SD13 race

From the Trib:

Sen. Rodney Ellis

Sen. Rodney Ellis

In the span of a month, a Texas Senate seat will have been vacated and effectively filled, an unconventional turn of events that has Houston Democrats scrambling to replace one of their most venerated legislators.

The highly abbreviated contest is unfolding in Senate District 13, where Rodney Ellis is vacating his seat of 20-some years to serve on the Harris County Commissioners Court. His successor on the ballot will be picked July 16 by precinct chairs in the Senate district, which is spread across Harris and Fort Bend counties.

“It’s going to be a sprint,” acknowledged state Rep. Borris Miles, who’s vying for the seat along with House colleague Senfronia Thompson and former City Controller Ron Green.

[…]

“The No. 1 issue is the personal connection between the person and the precinct chair,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston. “This probably advantages Miles, whose whole district resides within SD-13.”

“This is an odd race where money doesn’t matter,” Rottinghaus added. “There’s not going to be any advertising. No one’s going to go door-to-door. This is all about who’s in the room and who can be persuaded.”

Miles’ House District 146 may lie almost entirely within Senate District 13, but his rivals are not without advantages when it comes to courting precinct chairs. Thompson’s House district also shares some real estate with the Senate district, and “Ms. T” is a household name for many Houston Democrats. Green is the only one of the bunch to have won election citywide, and before that, he was a City Council member whose district was 85 percent within the Senate district.

“For me quite frankly, it would be really hard to say who has a significant advantage,” said Rodney Griffin, a member of the State Democratic Executive Committee and a precinct chair in Senate District 13. Thompson, he added, may have a “slight advantage” due to her long tenure in the House and the name recognition that comes with it.

Not really much we didn’t already know. The main difference between this race and the Commissioners Court one is that Rodney Ellis established himself as a frontrunner early on. He was the first person to announce his interest in the position – he was certainly the first one to call me – he had the longest record, and his district covered nearly all of the Commissioners Court precinct. Nobody has all of those advantages here. They all entered at the same time. Thompson has the longest record and is surely the best known, but Miles’ district covers more of SD13. Green represented even more of SD13 than either of them, including some of the Fort Bend County parts, but he has no legislative experience, and it’s fair to say he has some baggage. Thompson’s experience could be a double-edged sword – she has been the Chair of the Local and Consent Committee in the House for several sessions, and I seriously doubt her successor there will be a Democrat. That’s a nontrivial amount of clout to give up, and in fact Green is making the argument that by choosing him there would be no net loss of Democratic seniority in the Legislature. I have no idea which arguments will carry the most weight, but I’m damn glad I’m not one of the 96 precinct chairs who will be on the receiving end of them.

SD13 nomination process update

Two possible candidates have taken themselves out of the running.

Sen. Rodney Ellis

Sen. Rodney Ellis

State Rep. Garnet Coleman and former City Councilman C.O. Bradford have decided not to run for Rodney Ellis’ state Senate seat, citing a desire to retain seniority in the state House and concerns about the electoral process, respectively.

That leaves state Reps. Senfronia Thompson and Borris Miles, and former City Controller Ron Green vying for Senate District 13, which stretches from northeast Fort Bend County to Houston’s northeast corner.

[…]

“At this moment in time, I believe I can serve my constituents better in the House,” Coleman, who took office in 1991, told the Chronicle Thursday. “You don’t have to be a senator to affect the process, and I know that I have the ability to affect the process in the House, and it would be much better than the Senate.”

C.O. Bradford also was considering joining the race, but said Tuesday that he had decided against it because of the requirement that precinct chairs vote publicly.

“Casting a secret ballot is considered almost sacred in the democratic process,” Bradford said. “I opt not to pressure citizens to compete and cast open votes that defy a very meaningful component of our democracy.”

I didn’t get the sense that anyone had an issue with that on Thursday night, but then maybe it was only those chairs who were okay with it that showed up. One could always get involved with the party if one wishes to change the operating rules by which the party abides, which it adopts at its biennial conventions. Rep. Coleman sent out a press release just prior to Thursday’s meeting at which the judicial nominees were chosen, citing his seniority in the House and position as Chair of the County Affairs Committee and Legislative Study Group Caucus as reasons for staying put. Barring any unexpected entries at this point – a few of us were speculating on Thursday about CM Boykins, but no one had any information – or fringe candidates, the lineup appears to be set with Rep. Thompson, Rep. Miles, and former Controller Green. All three were there on Thursday night as well; they provided the food for the meeting, which was greatly appreciated given that we were all there till after 9:30.

As HCDP Chair Lane Lewis noted at the beginning of Thursday’s meeting, SD13 covers both Harris and Fort Bend counties, so it is the state party’s role to call the convention at which the next nominee for SD13 will be selected. He said that was set for Saturday, July 16, at 10 AM at the CWA hall (the same location as for the Commissioners Court nomination process), and that it was open to the public if one wanted to observe. I may do that myself if my schedule allows. I will be happy to observe and not participate this time.

Here come the candidates for SD13

Here we go again.

Rodney Ellis

Rodney Ellis

State Rep. Borris Miles came prepared with signs Saturday when Rodney Ellis all but secured a seat on Harris County’s Commissioners Court – not in support of Ellis, but to launch his own campaign.

Ellis’ selection as the Democratic Party’s nominee to replace late Precinct 1 Commissioner El Franco Lee has begun to ripple across the November ballot, freeing up the first in what could be a series of openings in Harris County’s legislative delegation.

The 26-year state senator now must withdraw his name from the ballot for Senate District 13, requiring Democratic precinct chairs to meet yet again on July 16 to select a replacement candidate. Their nominee will run unopposed.

Miles, state Rep. Senfronia Thompson and former City Controller Ron Green have thrown their hats in the ring as others mull joining the race.

The three-week campaign sprint is projected to be as contentious as the commissioner’s race was cordial.

“Many of the candidates have complex political histories that could result in a high level of discord,” Texas Southern University political scientist Michael Adams said. “I don’t think these people are going to be playing nice.”

[…]

State Rep. Garnet Coleman and former Houston City Councilman C.O. Bradford said they also are considering running for Ellis’ seat. City Councilman Dwight Boykins and state Rep. Harold Dutton said they opted not to.

Rep. Dutton was a supporter of Gene Locke for Commissioner, so he might have encountered some resistance had he chosen to run for SD13. As noted on Sunday, Reps. Miles and Thompson were at the Saturday precinct convention that placed Ellis on the ballot for County Commissioner. Green was not there but announced his candidacy via Instagram. Rep. Coleman had expressed his interest in the seat in May, but hasn’t said anything official as yet. This is the first I’ve seen Bradford’s name – and Green’s, for that matter – in one of these stories. We’ll see if other names come up. There are 94 precinct chairs in SD13, according to this story, with 78 in Harris County and 16 in Fort Bend. None of them are me, and I’m happy to be an observer and not a participant this time. Good luck to those who have the task of selecting Ellis’ successor.

Ellis wins Precinct 1 nomination

In the end, it wasn’t close.

Sen. Rodney Ellis

Sen. Rodney Ellis

State Sen. Rodney Ellis on Saturday won the Democratic nomination for Precinct 1 Commissioner, effectively guaranteeing the veteran lawmaker the office.

Ellis will be sacrificing 26 years in the Texas senate to become the next commissioner, an often overlooked but powerful local office. He will take over from current Precinct 1 commissioner Gene Locke in January, who also ran for the office and was seen as Ellis’ top opponent.

Saturday’s nomination ends one of the most unusual campaigns in recent history. Longtime Commissioner El Franco Lee, who represented Precinct 1 for more than 30 years, died in January while still on the March 1 primary ballot, leaving the choice for who will run as the Democratic candidate to 125 precinct chairs.

There is no Republican opponent in November, all but guaranteeing victory to Ellis.

[…]

A week before the nomination meeting, Ellis claimed he had the support of more than half of the precinct chairs, effectively claiming victory. He also claimed the endorsement of Lee’s widow.

He will be the only Democrat on the court, which has four other Republican members.

The Precinct 1 commissioner represents 1.2 million people and controls a budget of more than $200 million.

The precinct convention that ultimately placed Ellis on the ballot was a wild affair, with a ton of people of varying interests in attendance. The precinct chairs that were to vote had to check in and be verified, at which time we got a name tag that we wore allowing us to sit down front, where we would ultimately vote. Ellis and Locke had the largest contingencies, with many Ellis supporters wearing navy blue Ellis T-shirts. (This led to an objection by one precinct chair, who cited election law about campaign materials not being too close to where elections are held. It was ruled out of order on the grounds that by law this was a precinct convention and a party function, not an election.)

There were a few motions made about who was and wasn’t eligible to participate, and a lot of noise about the process to elect a convention chair. Rules allow the chair, which at the beginning was HCDP Chair Lane Lewis, to select the method of voting from a set of possible choices. After a voice vote on the convention chair was indeterminate, a “division of the house” process, in which supporters of each candidate went to different locations to be counted, was done. Once that was settled and a secretary was elected, we eventually got around to the main event.

Four candidates were nominated for the position. In order of their nomination, they were Nat West, Dwight Boykins, Rodney Ellis, and Gene Locke. I was a little surprised that no one else’s name came up, but that’s how it went. Among other things, it meant that Ellis was the only nominated candidate to have filled out the HCDP questionnaire. Each candidate got two minutes to address the crowd; motions to give them five minutes, and to allow two other supporters to speak on their behalf were loudly voted down. Division of the house was used for this vote. Nat West, who as a precinct chair nominated himself, had two votes. Dwight Boykins appeared to have about ten or so; he then declared that he was withdrawing, and from what I could tell all of his supporters went over to Gene Locke. In the end, Ellis had 78 votes, Locke had 36 (BOR reported 46; I’m pretty sure that’s a mis-hearing of the announced total), and West had two. There was no need for a runoff.

I’m very glad this is over, but this is just part of what needs to be done. There’s still the county convention for the judicial candidates on Thursday; several of those candidates, for the two different benches, were in attendance yesterday. With the selection of Ellis for the County Commissioner spot, there is now a vacancy for SD13. Candidates for that position were in attendance as well.

Ellis now must withdraw from the November ballot in Senate District 13, which covers a swath of southwest Houston. He will be replaced on the ballot by whichever Democrat can win the support of a majority of the precinct chairs in the district. The replacement will run unopposed in November.

At least three state representatives from the area are said to be interested in Ellis’ seat in the Senate: Garnet Coleman, Borris Miles and Senfronia Thompson.

Miles and Thompson were there yesterday, with the former handing out yard signs and the latter passing out pamphlets. I will not be surprised if other names surface for this – as with this position, being nominated is akin to being elected, as there are no other candidates on the November ballot – but the lesson to take from today is that just because one says one is running does not mean one will eventually be nominated to be a candidate. Also, I am not in SD13, so this is officially Not My Problem. I’ll do my part in the CEC meeting on Thursday, then I’m done.

Congratulations to Rodney Ellis, who I believe will do a great job as County Commissioner. We need to talk about doing something about him being the “only Democrat” on that body. The 2018 election will be a key opportunity to change that calculus. I would also like to offer my sincere thanks to current Commissioner Gene Locke, who I believe has done a very good job in his time in office. Under other circumstances I would have supported Commissioner Locke, so I am sorry I was unable to this time. I wish Commissioner Locke all the best as he completes the good work he has started, and in whatever comes next. I would also like to thank Council Member Boykins for his candidacy. He came up short but he brought attention to important issues that deserve it. I wish him all the best on City Council. It was an honor to take part in this process, but in all sincerity I hope I never have that kind of power again. It’t not something I’m comfortable with. I’m glad there are people for whom it is a better fit who can and do take on that challenge with wisdom and humility.

Overview of the Commissioners Court Precinct 1 “race”

I put “race” in quotes because it’s not like any other race you’v ever seen.

El Franco Lee

The campaign for the next Harris County Precinct 1 commissioner appears in many ways like any other: candidates are raising money, seeking endorsements and sending out targeted mailers touting their credentials.

But this is not a typical election, and voters won’t be heading to the ballot box. Instead, the task of picking a commissioner who will represent 1.2 million people – more than the populations of nine states – and control a $200 million budget falls to a group of 125 Democratic precinct chairs.

That’s because longtime Commissioner El Franco Lee’s name remained on the March 1 primary ballot after his death in early January, leaving the precinct chairs to select the party’s new nominee, who will be unopposed in November.

The unusual nature of the nominating process means the campaign is less democratic than most local elections and far more intimate – built around in-depth policy conversations and targeted wooing of party insiders.

Example: The presumed frontrunners, Rodney Ellis and Gene Locke, both sent flowers to female precinct chairs for Mother’s Day.

[…]

City Councilman Dwight Boykins has not formally announced his candidacy, citing concern that he could forfeit his municipal office by doing so. But he has been actively campaigning for the job.

Because voters last November extended the terms of Houston elected officials to four years, from two, those who become a candidate for another office now are subject to the so-called “resign-to-run” provision of the Texas Constitution, which applies to municipal officeholders with terms longer than two years. Though a Texas attorney general opinion issued in 2000 states that running for the nomination of a political party’s executive committee does not prompt an automatic resignation, the courts have yet to formally resolve the issue.

“My best bet is that the courts would rule that (then-Attorney General John) Cornyn is correct and you don’t trigger resign-to-run by seeking the nomination of the executive committee,” former Harris County Democratic Party Chair Gerry Birnberg said. However, he added, “Until the courts decide the issue, there is no way to say for sure, definitively, that Attorney General Cornyn was correct.”

So Boykins and other interested council members – Jerry Davis and Larry Green – have approached the campaign gingerly.

“I can neither admit or deny my interest in the seat because of the way the current law is drafted,” Green said recently. “However, I can say I have been approached by several precinct judges and other community members requesting that I do move forward in trying to run for the seat.”

It’s a good overview of the process, so give it a read and familiarize yourself. I spoke to Chron reporter Rebecca Elliott on Thursday, but much like Kevin Costner in The Big Chill, my role was left on the cutting room floor. One point I want to address in this story, which is as much about the great power that’s been bestowed on some 125 precinct chairs as anything, is the question of how this process could have been done differently. One precinct chair called for a special election instead of the current process. That has some intuitive appeal, but remember, we’re not actually picking a County Commissioner. We’re picking a Democratic nominee for County Commissioner. There’s no provision in the law for a special party primary election, and I’m not sure how you could conduct one in a way that mimicked an actual primary election. Those are technically open elections, but everyone who participates has to choose which primary they want to vote in. How do you ensure conditions like that in a special election environment? Remember also, we precinct chairs – not just the 125 or so of us in Precinct 1, but the 500 or so of us in all of Harris County – are also selecting nominees for two judicial races. There’s basically no concern about us doing that, in part for the obvious reason that those offices have far less power, but also because those nominees will have contested races against Republicans in November, and unlike the Commissioners Court race there’s no guarantee they’ll win. The concern about the un-democratic nature of this process is, in my opinion, entirely about the nature of the office of Commissioners Court, which has vast power and not a whole lot of electoral accountability under normal circumstances. It’s about the office, not the process. Fixing the process in some way, if there is a way, can’t address that.

I should also point out that as weird as this process is, it could be worse. For one, if the late Commissioner Lee had died next January after being elected and sworn in, instead of this January after the filing deadline had passed, then Judge Ed Emmett would have been able to not only pick a replacement as he did to fill out the last year of Lee’s term, but that replacement would have been able to file for election himself in 2018, and would almost certainly have cruised to an easy win. This is what happened with Jerry Eversole (who resigned after the 2010 election) and now-Commissioner Jack Cagle. At least here, it’s Democrats who are picking the replacement. Yes, we’d have gotten a shot at that person in the next primary, but that could mean nearly two years of a Commissioner in the most Democratic precinct in the county being chosen by a Republican County Judge, and an awful lot can happen in two years. We got lucky here, in that Judge Emmett is an honorable man, and his choice for this year of Commissioner Locke was a good one. But there was and would have been nothing to stop a less honorable Judge from picking whatever hack or crony he wanted to. It could have been worse, that’s all I’m saying.

One more thing:

If Ellis earns the Democratic Party’s nod for commissioner, the party would need to convene another executive committee meeting to find a replacement for him on the ballot for state senator – and quickly, as all nominations must be completed by late August.

The angling has already begun.

“Of course anybody in the (Texas) House – or any other position for that matter – is going to look at that position as something to move to, and so I fall in that category of looking at it as a possibility,” said state Rep. Garnet Coleman, one of several politicians who have already expressed interest in Ellis’s seat. “These seats don’t change hands very often, and more than likely, whomever is selected to be the nominee for the Democratic Party, they’re going to be there for a long time.”

Naming Sen. Ellis to fill the nomination ensures at least one more round of this selection process, with the precinct chairs in SD13 moving onto the hot spot. (That does not include me, as I am in SD15.) And if the precinct chairs of SD13 select a State Rep to fill the slot left vacant by Ellis – at the very least, Reps. Coleman, Thompson, and Miles are waiting in the wings – then we get to do this a third time. There is an argument to be made that selecting Commissioner Locke to run for the seat in November puts an end to that process. Whether one considers that a pro or a con is a matter of personal preference.

More Commissioner hopefuls make themselves known

The race is on.

El Franco Lee

With former city attorney Gene Locke in place to finish the late Harris County Commissioner El Franco Lee’s term, Democratic players are quickly emerging as candidates in the November general election.

State Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, said late Thursday that he intends to run, sacrificing 25 years of legislative seniority in a bid for a powerful local office. City Councilmen Jerry Davis, Dwight Boykins and Larry Green said Friday they have begun campaigning, such as it is, under these unusual circumstances. Councilman C.O. Bradford said constituents had encouraged him to run, and he’s considering it.

[…]

Ellis was the first to go public with his campaign efforts. He began researching what it would take to run for the county position, since his name is on the November ballot for state senator.

A legal memo prepared for county Democratic chair Lane Lewis outlined a path by which Ellis said he could seek the ballot spot. In mid-June the Democratic party chairs for Precinct 1 will vote for a candidate to replace Lee on the ballot.

If the party chose him for commissioner, Ellis could withdraw his name from the ballot for state senator, which would trigger a second process by the Democratic leaders to pick a Democrat for state Senate.

Ellis said a move to local office would bring him back to his political roots.

“I started out in local politics in 1983” to run for the City Council, Ellis said. “I left a great job I loved as chief of staff of a U.S. congressman, Mickey Leland.”

Despite having passed 600 bills in the Legislature, Ellis said, he sees himself as “very much an activist” on local issues like urban homesteading and criminal justice.

When he ran for the state Senate, he always planned to find a path back to local office, “probably to run for mayor,” Ellis said. “I have done a lot of thinking, a lot of praying on this.”

This is from the fuller version of yesterday’s story regarding new Commissioner Gene Locke and Ellis’ first-in-line announcement. Good timing has its rewards. I don’t have much to add except to note again what I’m looking for in a new Commissioner. I’ll leave it to you to decide which of these candidates may fit what I have in mind.

Sen. Ellis to seek Commissioner’s position

We have our first public announcement of interest in filling the late El Franco Lee’s seat on Commissioner’s Court.

Sen. Rodney Ellis

Sen. Rodney Ellis

Longtime state Sen. Rodney Ellis has begun making calls to local Democratic Party leaders and plans to run for the Harris County Commissioner seat left vacant after the death of El Franco Lee, a spokesman said Thursday night.

County Judge Ed Emmett will announce and swear in Lee’s temporary replacement in Precinct 1 on Friday and Lee’s name will remain on the ballot for the primary.

But Ellis’ campaign spokesman David Edmonson said late Thursday the Houston lawmaker was not pursuing Emmett’s interim appointment. Ellis has researched the statute, and has asked an aide to lay out the steps a candidate like him would need to take to get his name removed from the November ballot for senator should the Democratic Party chairs choose him as the general election candidate for the commissioner’s seat.

Sen. Ellis has contacted me about this; he was calling precinct chairs, and I’m on that list. He’s not the only person I have heard from, but he is the first to be public about it. The post I wrote about what I’m looking for in a successor to Commissioner Lee was written after those conversations, to help me organize and fill out my thoughts on the matter. Sen. Ellis does meet my qualifications, but I’m waiting to see who else publicly expresses an interest before I commit to anyone. If Sen. Ellis wins the election of the precinct chairs, we will then have to go through a similar exercise to replace him on the ballot in SD13, but as I am not in that Senate district, I will not be a part of that. PDiddie has more.

In the meantime, County Judge Ed Emmett has made his choice for interim Commissioner.

Gene Locke

Gene Locke

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett on Friday named Gene Locke, a former city attorney and mayoral candidate, to complete El Franco Lee’s term on Commissioners Court.

Locke, 68, a senior partner at the Andrews Kurth law firm, served as city attorney under the late Mayor Bob Lanier in the 1990s and ran for mayor in 2009, losing in a runoff to Annise Parker.

“I plan to be a hands-on, on the ground, let’s get with the program commissioner, which means that I will follow in El Franco’s footsteps,” Locke said.

He added: “This precinct belongs to El Franco Lee, and anything that I do over the next several months is dedicated to him.”

Asked if he intended to run for the post in November, Locke said, “My intention is to go back to the practice of law and enjoy my family.”

Here’s Judge Emmett’s press release. We know that new Commissioner Locke can keep a secret, so if he does have something up his sleeve, we’ll know it when he’s ready to let us know it. Honestly, though, I take him at his word. I will be more than a little shocked if Gene Locke winds up on the list of names for us precinct chairs to consider. Locke was chosen after Commissioner Lee’s widow passed on being considered for the post. I join with many others in wishing Commissioner Locke all the best with the new gig.

Lawsuit filed over Senate map

From Texas Redistricting:

[Monday] morning, two Texas voters filed a suit in federal court challenging the state senate map drawn by the Texas Legislature on the grounds that it violated the equal protection guarantees of the Fourteenth Amendment by using total population rather eligible voters to draw districts.

The plaintiffs in the case are backed by the Project for Fair Representation, which also helped back Shelby County’s challenge to section 5 of the Voting Rights Act as well as efforts to overturn affirmative action policies at the University of Texas at Austin.

The Center’s press release announcing the new Texas suit can be found here.

More information here.

What’s at issue?

The plaintiffs argue that the current Texas senate map (Plan S172) must be redrawn using “eligible voters” rather than “total population” – the measure long used by the Texas Legislature – because the latter now results in districts with significantly differing numbers of voters.

By not using eligible voters, the plaintiffs say the Texas Legislature violated the “one-person, one vote” principle of the Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment by allowing some voters’ votes to count for more than those of others.

Why are there disparities?

In Texas, the major driver of disparities in the number of eligible voters is the high number of non-citizens in parts of the state – mainly its urban and suburban cores. For example, in places like Dallas and Houston, commonly accepted estimates are that around half of adult Hispanics are non-citizens.

Of course, disparities also can exist for any number of other reasons, including higher numbers of children under 18 in fast growing parts of the state or a larger number of people who are unable to vote because of felony convictions.

However, differing citizenship rates are, by far, the largest driver of disparities in the number of eligible voters.

[…]

How would drawing districts using “eligible voters” change the current map?

At present, Texas senate districts have a target population of 811,147 people.

If courts were to require maps to be drawn using some measure of eligible voters, the target size of districts also would change.

For example, although Texas has over 25 million people, its citizen voting age population in the most recent Census Bureau report was estimated to be just 15,583,540. Using CVAP to draw districts would mean that each district would have a CVAP target of 502,695.

That target population would require significant reworking of districts that presently have large Hispanic populations.

In the Houston area, for example, SD-13, represented by State Sen. Rodney Ellis, has a CVAP population of only 419,035, and SD-6, represented by State Sen. Sylvia Garcia, fares even worse with just 377,505 citizens of voting age. Likewise, in the Dallas area, SD-23, represented by State Sen. Royce West, has just 456,955.

Even with permitted deviations from the target population, these districts would need to add population, mostly likely by drawing from neighboring Anglo-dominated districts. Though those people might or might not be Anglo, the need to add large numbers of people mean the demographics and electoral performance of the districts could change materially. In fact, the need to add people might very well jeopardize the protected status that those districts currently enjoy under section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

In other words, this could be a very big deal not only for Hispanics but also potentially African-Americans.

There could be practical impacts as well for legislators since urban districts would likely end up with far greater numbers of total people – who, although they might not be able to vote, still have need for constituent services – and be much larger physically as well.

Wasn’t there a similar case recently about the same issue?

Yes. In fact, it involved many of the same players.

In Lepak v. City of Irving, the lawyers in the Texas senate case – also backed by the Project for Fair Representation – represented Irving residents in arguing that the city’s new single-member council district map was unconstitutional because it had been drawn using total population rather than CVAP.

Both the district court and the Fifth Circuit ruled against the Irving plaintiffs, citing the Fifth Circuit’s ruling in Chen v. City of Houston, which held that the question of whether to use total population or CVAP was a political question and thus not reviewable by courts.

The Irving plaintiffs sought to have the decision reviewed by the Supreme Court, but the high court declined last April to take the case.

However, the Texas senate case potentially represents another opportunity to have the Supreme Court take up the issue since any appeal would go directly to the Supreme Court as a matter of right.

More background on Lepak here.

There’s more at the link, but basically this is a nuisance action being brought by some professional grievance-mongers. It would serve them right not only to have the case dismissed with prejudice, but also to be assessed full court costs and attorneys’ fees for wasting everyone’s time. The Observer and Rick Hasen have more.

Endorsement watch: Ellis and Whitmire

The Chron finally turns to legislative races by endorsing two Senate Democratic incumbents in a pair of lightly contested races.

[Sen. Rodney] Ellis, the longtime Democratic incumbent in Texas Senate District 13, has made his mark in many legislative areas, including education, the state budget process and the criminal justice arena. It is thanks to Ellis’ efforts, for example, that Harris County will soon have a public defender’s office. Access to higher education by low-income and minority Texans also has been widened thanks to the senator’s efforts. It is no exaggeration to observe that Texas has become a more welcoming and tolerant place because of Ellis’ efforts. It has.

[Sen. John] Whitmire, the Democratic incumbent in Texas Senate District 15, has been in the Senate for 27 years and his length of service has earned him the title “Dean of the Senate.” The Houston native, who first came to the Legislature as a Texas House member while still an undergraduate at the University of Houston in the early 1970s, has focused his energies on criminal justice, overseeing a rewrite of the state penal code in the 1990s. His deep knowledge of the criminal justice system is a resource that will be particularly valuable in dealing with the state’s daunting budget deficit.

It was a pleasure interviewing them as well, which you can listen to here for Ellis and here for Whitmire.

Interview with State Sen. Rodney Ellis

Sen. Rodney Ellis

We move from the House to the Senate this week for conversations with the Democratic Senate delegation of Harris County. First up is State Sen. Rodney Ellis, who served three terms on Houston City Council in District D before being elected to represent SD13 in 1990. Ellis has championed many causes in his time in the upper chamber, with criminal justice reform and issues relating to innocence being the most prominent. He authored the bill that enabled the creation of the new Harris County public defender’s office and was the Senate sponsor of the bill that created the Timothy Cole Advisory Panel on Wrongful Convictions, and has led the push for a statewide Innocence Commission. In addition to that, he authored the bill that created the back-to-school sales tax holiday, and has been a leading proponent of expanded gambling in Texas. Those were among the subjects we discussed:

Download the MP3 file

You can find a list of all interviews for this cycle on the 2010 Elections page.