Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

Sylvester Turner

Lining up for the runoff

Runoffs always provide focus.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner is rallying the support of state and national Democrats as he seeks to fend off Tony Buzbee in the December runoff to win a second term at the helm of Houston government.

One week into the runoff, Turner has gathered the endorsements of Harris County’s four Democratic Congress members — Lizzie Fletcher, Sylvia Garcia, Al Green and Sheila Jackson Lee — the Texas Democratic Party, 15 Democratic state legislators and the three Democrats on Harris County Commissioners Court.

Also backing Turner is the Harris County AFL-CIO, which declined to endorse any mayoral candidate in the first leg of the race.

[…]

At a news conference Monday, some of Turner’s elected allies sought to tie Buzbee to President Donald Trump, for whom Buzbee once hosted a fundraiser at his River Oaks home. In response to attacks from Turner over his Trump ties, Buzbee has noted his past support for members of both parties, including Turner, and accused the mayor of trying to distract from his record by making the election a referendum on Trump.

Green, a Houston Democrat and perhaps the most vocal congressional proponent of impeaching Trump, on Monday urged Houstonians not to follow what he said is a growing trend of electing millionaires who lack political experience.

“We cannot allow this paradigm to persist,” said Green, D-Houston.

[…]

The endorsements could represent a minor boost to Turner but have little practical effect because voters already perceived him as a Democrat, said Rice University political scientist Mark Jones. It was only a matter of when, not if, Turner’s Democratic allies would get behind him, he added.

“To the extent that there was a tiny crack open for Tony Buzbee to claim he’s a Democrat, this probably shuts the door on that,” Jones said, noting that Buzbee has framed himself as an independent and sought to appeal to voters from both parties in the nonpartisan mayoral race.

Even before the endorsements, Jones said, Buzbee likely would have had trouble catching on with Democratic voters because he has yet to effectively counter the Trump attacks.

“Some of his actions, in terms of extravagant behavior and his outsider approach, just reinforce the idea that he’s the Houston version of Donald Trump, even though on a policy level that’s not the case,” Jones said. “But most voters aren’t looking that deep.”

I mostly agree with Mark Jones here, but I would add that these endorsements also provide some incentive to vote. Mayor Turner just needs his voters to show up. One intent of these endorsements is just to remind people that they still need to do that, because the race isn’t over yet. Job One in any election is to make sure your supporters know that there is an election and they need to vote in it.

Meanwhile, the firefighters have decided to go ahead and endorse Buzbee, which, I dunno, just seems kind of sad. I mean, they essentially recruited Dwight Boykins for the race rather than support Buzbee early on, and now after Boykins’s six percent showing they’re trudging over to Buzbee because I guess they feel like they have to do something. Good luck with that, I suppose.

Get ready for more Buzbee ads

Keep that remote handy.

Self-funding millionaire lawyer Tony Buzbee on Wednesday said he would spend whatever it takes to unseat Sylvester Turner and predicted a “full-on slugfest” during the five-week runoff to decide Houston’s mayoral race.

The runoff will test the effectiveness of Turner’s strategy to portray Buzbee as an acolyte of President Trump — whom Buzbee once supported — against the challenger’s own blueprint of casting himself as a nonpartisan outsider with the chops to improve on Turner’s record handling flood control, infrastructure and crime.

After full election results were published Wednesday morning, Turner wasted no time framing the runoff as a choice between his political record and “a Donald Trump imitator” who Turner said “will say anything, do anything or spend anything to get elected.”

Buzbee, speaking to reporters hours later, said he would not allow Turner to make the election “a referendum on Donald Trump,” promising to instead focus on matters of policy while predicting a “full-on slugfest” up until the Dec. 14 runoff.

[…]

To defeat Turner, political observers said, Buzbee will need to broaden his support beyond the base of voters he assembled in the first round. That includes making inroads with left-leaning voters who did not support Turner, a longtime Democrat, along with winning the support of those who cast ballots for Bill King, who competed with Buzbee for conservative support but struggled to match his rival’s self-financed $10 million campaign war chest.

“I think he’ll pick up the majority of the Bill King supporters and he’ll pick up some other folks who were just not happy with the mayor for some reason,” said Nancy Sims, a local political analyst who is not affiliated with either campaign. “It’s a tough path to victory, but in 2015 we saw King come in in a similar position.”

For what it’s worth, Turner led King by about 19K votes, in a higher-turnout election, in 2015. He led Buzbee by about 24K votes this time, and as noted drew more votes than Buzbee and King combined. Every election is different and nothing is ever guaranteed, but Turner is clearly in a stronger position this time.

I don’t know how Buzbee plans to spend his money in the runoff. I’m not sure Buzbee knows how he’s going to spend it. I figure we’re going to face another barrage of TV ads, but who can say beyond that. Buzbee did spend a ton of money earlier in the year on polling. I know this because I was on the receiving end of what seemed like dozens of poll calls, some live and some robo, from the Buzbee campaign. (They never identified themselves, of course, but you could tell from the questions they were asking.) I haven’t gotten one of them in awhile, so I guess it’s on to other things. Whatever the case, when you have more money than brains you find ways to spend.

“Mayor Turner’s biggest enemy in the runoff is not Tony Buzbee, but complacency,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston. “But I don’t know if it’s a major problem, because he has such a strong and sophisticated campaign machine.”

Potentially boosting Turner’s chances, Rottinghaus and Sims said, are a host of city council runoffs in districts that went heavily to Turner in the first leg of the election.

Turner won a majority of the vote in districts B and D, and a plurality of the vote in C, F, H and J, all of which will be decided by runoffs. Across the six districts combined, Turner received 55 percent of the vote, to Buzbee’s 21 percent share.

Buzbee’s strongest districts, E and G, were decided without runoffs Tuesday. He won a plurality of the vote in District A, the lone remaining runoff district, receiving 39 percent to Turner’s 36 percent.

“I think the city council races that are in runoffs are going to determine a lot of voter turnout,” Sims said. “And very clearly, the city council district races that have runoffs favor Turner.”

I made that same observation. I don’t have the draft canvass yet, but when I do I’ll be sure to quantify this.

Speaking to reporters Wednesday, Buzbee acknowledged the need to scoop up support from voters who backed King and Boykins, who finished in fourth place and was backed by the firefighters union. Buzbee said he is “looking for (Boykins’) support,” along with the backing of the firefighters.

“I’m going to be seeking that endorsement, and I certainly would welcome that endorsement,” Buzbee said.

Marty Lancton, president of the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association, made clear in a statement Wednesday that the firefighters union would get involved in city runoffs, though he declined to say more about how the union would approach the mayor’s race.

“Making City Hall accountable and fixing the fire department remain our priorities,” Lancton said. “We’ll find a way forward to help do that. Our political work is not done in 2019.”

Boykins and King did not respond to phone and text inquiries about their endorsement plans. Lovell said she would not endorse Turner, and “beyond that I haven’t had conversations with anyone else.”

Honestly, I have no idea how much these endorsements matter. Better to have them than not for sure, but I think it takes a specific set of circumstances for them to make much difference. The interesting bit here is the firefighters, who were so gung ho about beating Turner in the general and now seem all “meh” in the runoff. Are they abashed that their endorsed candidate barely got five percent of the vote, or are they just not into Buzbee? (“Both” is an acceptable answer to that question.) The firefighters do have a number of their endorsed Council candidates in runoffs, so they have plenty to do and much to gain whether or not they get involved in the Mayoral runoff. But after months of hearing about their feud with the Mayor and all the rest of the Prop B stuff, it’s quite remarkable that it will seemingly end on such a low-key note.

Initial thoughts on Election 2019

All bullet points, all the time…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final results are in

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

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

Controller: Chris Brown wins.

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

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

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

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

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

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

2019 election results: Houston and Metro

Unfortunately, we have to start with this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mayor: Turner leads, is close to a majority.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Controller: Incumbent Chris Brown leads

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

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

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

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

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

HISD: Davila and Lira are going to lose

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

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

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

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

A wrapup for early voting

Here’s the Chron story on the end of early voting.

Early voting ended Friday with a late surge in turnout among Harris County voters, surpassing voter participation in some prior mayoral election years but falling short of totals seen during the last city election in 2015.

Through 12 days of early voting, more than 152,000 voters cast ballots ahead of the Tuesday election, with about 137,000 voting in person and some 15,000 returning mail ballots. The total represents about 6.5 percent of Harris County’s more than 2.3 million registered voters, far less than the 9.4 percent early voting turnout in 2015 but slightly more than the 5.6 percent turnout in 2013.

Harris County was on track to fall slightly short of 2013 turnout before Friday’s influx of more than 34,000 voters. The final day turnout was roughly double this year’s prior single-day high and accounted for more than one-fifth of overall early voting turnout.

The overall standard turnout rate comes despite a Houston mayoral race that has seen a record $16 million spent between the 12 candidates, according to Rice University political scientist Mark Jones, and several months of vigorous campaigning by Tony Buzbee and Bill King, the top two challengers to Mayor Sylvester Turner.

“For all the money spent, all the bluster, all the hype — that has done nothing to increase turnout,” said Houston Democratic strategist Keir Murray. “We’re seeing a very typical, low-interest municipal election with the great majority of voters being people who always vote.”

[…]

Harris County’s unremarkable turnout reflects the same relatively low voter participation seen in mayoral elections earlier this year in Dallas and San Antonio, Aiyer added. In Bexar County, which includes San Antonio, just 11.5 percent of registered voters turned out for the May election, which included a mayoral contest.

“I think there was a faulty assumption coming off of 2018 that we would have really high turnout,” Aiyer said. “And I think that’s just not borne out by the data at the municipal level statewide.”

The underlying early voting data also show that candidates are drawing few new voters to the polls. Through Thursday, 93 percent of Houston voters in Harris County had participated in at least two of the last three general elections, with 75 percent voting in all three, according to data from the Texas Democratic Party shared by Murray. Just 2 percent did not vote in any of the last three elections.

See here for the final data, and here for Keir’s Saturday Twitter thread on who did the voting. At this point, I think the odds are in favor of betting the under on my 200K to 220K projection for Houston. The 2009 Mayor’s race (178K in Harris County) and 2013 Mayor’s race (174K in Harris County) are looking like better comps. It’s possible that Election Day turnout will be higher than expected – the four-year cycle may be altering previous patterns, and the Astros’ playoff run may have distracted people – but probably not. I’ll run through some scenarios tomorrow and come up with concrete numbers to throw around.

In the meantime, the new college campus EV locations got positive reviews.

The University of Houston’s Student Center was bustling over the weekend with pre-Halloween festivities, at least one lively pep rally, sorority and fraternity events, and, for the first time, early voting.

“It’s been a fair turnout, and people who have voted are very appreciative that the voting is happening here,” Bruce Davis, an alternative election judge for Harris County, said Monday.

Numbers at UH’s polling station — like those at two other new early-voting locations in the county — were modest, and Davis said there were still kinks to be worked out.

This year, the Harris County Clerk’s Office introduced three new early polling locations — at UH, Texas Southern University and Houston Community College’s West Loop campus — in hopes of reaching at least 50,000 more voters, mostly students, according to Michael Winn, administrator of elections for the Harris County Clerk’s office, which oversees elections. The target includes 40,000 new voters at UH alone. The office is now led by Democrat Diane Trautman, who unseated Republican incumbent Stan Stanart last year and has backed countywide election centers to encourage higher turnout.

As of Wednesday evening, the early-voting totals were 750 at UH, 452 at TSU and 796 at HCC’s West Loop campus. But officials were not worried. According to Winn, it’s all a part of the process as people adjust to their new polling locations. In the meantime, officials are keeping a watchful eye ahead of next year’s primary and presidential elections.

“We just want to begin to lay the foundation for those locations to already be in place so people will be accustomed to going to those locations and utilizing the facilities,” Winn said.

In the end, the HCC location got 1,262 early votes, UH got 1,125, and TSU got 750. It’s a decent start for brand new locations. I agree that 2020 is both the priority and the bigger test.

Final 2019 EV totals: With a bit of bonus poll-analyzing

Early voting for the 2019 election is officially over. Let’s look at those numbers one last time:


Year    Early    Mail   Total   Mailed
======================================
2019  137,460  15,304  152,764   26,824
2015  164,104  29,859  193,963   43,280
2013   87,944  21,426  109,370   30,572

The 2019 Day Twelve file is here, the final 2015 file is here, and the final 2013 file is here. The daily voter rosters are here.

Keir Murray used those voter rosters to break down who has voted so far.

This led to a response from poli sci prof Mark Jones:

Here’s the poll in question. The Friday turnout was over 33K, more than twice what Thursday’s was and over twenty percent of the entire amount, so the roster figures may be a bit different now. Turner’s path to avoiding a runoff has always been narrow, but it’s there. I’ll have some more thoughts about where we stand on Monday, but for now, please enjoy these numbers.

8 Day finance reports: Mayor and Controller

The Erik Manning spreadsheet is here, the July reports from Mayoral candidates are here, the July reports from Controller candidates (which in this case was just Chris Brown) are here, and the 30 day reports for both Mayorals and Controllers are here. All of the reports that I have downloaded and inspected can be found in my Google folder, and any reports that were filed non-electronically can be found here. Finally, the Chron story about the 8 day reports is here.

I’m not going to run through the 8 day reports for all of the races and candidates, as I have done for July and 30 day reports. Too many candidates, not enough time, and honestly not that much of interest for most of these campaigns. Though I may check out a couple of the Council campaigns, just because I’m curious about them. Anyway, the first reports are mostly about raising money, but the 8 day is mostly about spending it – ads, canvassers, calls and texts (note to campaigns: I’ve already voted please stop texting me kthxbai), signs to post at EV locations, etc etc etc. Keep that in mind as we examine these reports.


Candidate     Raised      Spent     Loan     On Hand
====================================================
Turner       376,947  1,260,650        0     787,331
Buzbee             0  2,866,445        0   1,300,780
King          87,344    193,980  410,000     141,287
Boykins       20,250     38,308        0      29,969
Lovell        
Baker          1,500      2,000        0       3,419
Broze          4,472      1,560        0       2,955
Houjami        1,377        273        0          38


Brown         37,010    211,379   75,000     108,907
Sanchez      107,581     81,350        0      66,299

Sue Lovell did not have a report posted as of Tuesday. She was one of the last to post a 30 day report, so I’m guessing it will be there eventually. Some day, I hope a bright young political science student will embark on a study of why anyone would be donating to an obviously going-nowhere campaign like one of Baker/Broze/Houjami, in particular in the end days before the actual election, when there can be no doubt that to do so is to light that money on fire. Beyond the scope of this post, and this blog, but I’m putting it out there into the universe to see what I may get.

We’ve known all along that the Buzbee finance reports are weird since he’s not actually raising any money but just writing himself bigger and bigger checks, thus rendering the “Raised” and “On Hand” fields useless. The main thing we learn here is that he apparently hasn’t written any more checks since September 27. One reason why Mayor Turner may really really want to avoid a runoff with Buzbee is because he’s going to have to raise a bunch of money in a very short time frame to be able to compete with Buzbee on the air. The good news is that contribution limits are reset for runoffs, so any currently maxed-out donors can be tapped again, but it still takes time and effort. Or maybe it doesn’t matter that much – maybe it’s all about GOTV and running yet another attack ad will just turn everyone’s stomach and not actually affect anything.

On the Controller side, Orlando Sanchez raised quite a bit, no doubt making up for lost time due to his late entry into the race. Chris Brown has pressed his financial advantage, spending quite a bit in this period, but maintaining a financial edge afterwards. I was a bit surprised to see an attack ad by Brown on Sanchez during Monday Night Football, which was essentially a retelling of the financial dominatrix story, and oh yes I am very glad to have the opportunity to use the phrase “financial dominatrix” again. Brown had been running positive, accomplishments-and-biography ads before now. I don’t know if this is a sign that he’s worried, or just a pre-emptive strike, but either way it took me by surprise. I guess life doesn’t hand you that many chances to run that kind of ad, so you may as well go for the gusto when you can.

Trib overview of the Houston Mayor’s race

Not really anything here you don’t already know, but a good summary of the race so far.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

With early voting underway, the Houston mayoral race is not lacking for drama, but through it all, a fundamental question has persisted: Whatever the first-term stumbles of incumbent Sylvester Turner, is the solidly blue city willing to vote him out for a less-than-Democratic alternative? His closest competitor, swashbuckling attorney Tony Buzbee, is feverishly testing that hypothesis ahead of the Nov. 5 election, spending millions of his dollars to portray Turner as awash in corruption — and Buzbee as the City Hall outsider who can clean it all up.

But Turner has a Trump card — literally — and has spent the closing weeks of the race emphasizing Buzbee’s past support for the president, who is deeply unpopular in Texas’ biggest metropolis.

“This is a Democratic city,” said Keir Murray, a local Democratic consultant not working for any mayoral campaign. With Turner “pretty aggressively painting Buzbee with the Trump brush,” Murray added, “I think that that’s improving the mayor’s fortunes on a daily basis and given him some opportunity to win this race without a runoff.”

To be sure, Turner has his own vulnerabilities as he fights for a second four-year term in the mayor’s office, the potential culmination of a career in public service marked by 27 years in the Texas House and two unsuccessful mayoral bids before finally winning in 2015. And until the bitter end, Turner will have to contend with an unconventional, spotlight-grabbing challenger in Buzbee, who has already self-funded his campaign to the tune of $10 million while refusing donations from others. Beside Buzbee, Turner faces three other challengers seen as viable to varying degrees: Bill King, the businessman who narrowly lost to Turner in the 2015 mayoral contest; Dwight Boykins, a City Council member; and Sue Lovell, a former council member.

The race is non-partisan, though there is little mystery where the leading candidates are drawing their support. In the latest poll, Turner, a longtime Democrat, got majority support from that party’s voters, while Buzbee, who is eschewing party labels, had the backing of most Republicans.

There have been two public surveys in the race, both giving Turner a wide lead over Buzbee, but not enough to clear 50% and win outright on Nov. 5. Around one-fifth of voters were undecided in each survey.

[…]

Turner largely ignored his challengers until early September, when he launched an attack ad tying Buzbee to Trump, calling Buzbee a Trump “imitator” and “copycat.” Buzbee hosted a fundraiser for Trump, then the presumptive Republican nominee for president, in June 2016, and while he later disavowed Trump after the release of the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape, he ended up giving $500,000 to Trump’s inauguration committee.

Buzbee has rebuffed Turner’s efforts to yoke him to Trump by arguing he has supported politicians from both parties who have let him down — none more than Turner. Buzbee held a fundraiser for his now-rival in the 2015 runoff.

At a Monday debate, Buzbee conceded some things Trump has done “make me cringe” but insisted he wanted to “divorce myself from all this national politics which is ruining our political system.”

“This mayor would love this to be an election about Trump, but I’m running as Tony Buzbee, my own man, captain, United States Marine, who’s gonna change this city,” Buzbee said.

Turner responded: “If you’re making the same noise, if you’re coming with no experience, if you’re embracing people like Steve Hotze” — a controversial anti-LGBT power broker in Houston politics — “if you’re not running away from President Trump and yet you’re accusing other people of being the worst person you have ever supported, then what does that say about the person making those claims? It’s very important.”

(Hotze himself has grown as an issue in the race after Buzbee repeatedly distanced himself from Hotze’s endorsement at the debate. A day later, the Houston Chronicle reported Buzbee had met multiple times with Hotze in pursuit of his support, and on Thursday, Hotze withdrew his endorsement, calling Buzbee “a liar and a charlatan.”)

There’s more, and they touch on a bunch of other items that have been a part of the campaign. I didn’t see anything that I didn’t already know, but if you have a friend who needs a primer on what has happened so far in this race, this would suffice. To me, the two big things that appear to be affecting the outcome are the Republican support for Buzbee, which has helped him at King’s expense, and the lack of Democratic support for either Boykins or Lovell, which could have significantly held Turner back. I feel like the BuzbeeHotze dustup has opened a path to Turner winning in November, as polls show that much of Buzbee’s support comes from the Trump crowd, which we all know is now mostly equivalent to the Hotze crowd. If those people don’t show up or skip the Mayor’s race, that reduces the total number of votes Turner needs to get to make it to fifty percent. It’s still not the most likely outcome, but it’s possible.

Another ReBuild Houston lawsuit

Gotta say, this puzzles me.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

A pair of Houston residents filed a lawsuit against Mayor Sylvester Turner and city council Monday, accusing them of failing to follow the will of voters who approved a charter amendment last year for funding drainage and street repairs.

The lawsuit accuses city leaders of shortchanging the dedicated drainage fund by failing to transfer the full amount required by last year’s ballot proposition.

The proposition, which essentially was a “do-over” vote on the city’s 2010 street and drainage repair program known as Rebuild Houston, requires the city to dedicate 11.8 cents of its property tax rate to the street and drainage fund. The city, under former mayor Annise Parker and Turner, has transferred less than the full amount generated by the 11.8 cents for the last five years.

The plaintiffs allege a roughly $44 million discrepancy in what the city currently has budgeted compared to the amount generated by 11.8 cents of property tax rate. Over 10 years, the funding shortfall could exceed $500 million, the plaintiffs say.

Turner’s office issued a statement disagreeing with the premise of the lawsuit, saying that transferring the full amount generated by 11.8 cents of tax rate would require moving some $50 million more annually and would “cripple” city services.

“That would mean cuts to essential services like police, fire, solid waste, and other services,” the statement said. “Mayor Turner doesn’t support that.”

The plaintiffs, Allen Watson and Bob Jones, are engineers who were part of the campaign that put the program, then known as ReNew Houston, on the 2010 ballot. It later was renamed Rebuild Houston.

They said they were suing because the city had failed to meet the expectations outlined in Proposition A, which 74 percent of voters approved last year. They are seeking a court order to force the city to direct more money and “to fund the things they said they were going to fund,” Jones said.

“Houstonians spoke loud and clear just one year ago when they voted to create a fund to fix our streets and drainage,” Jones said in a later statement. “…We are undertaking this suit to ensure that the law is upheld, that the promised funding is protected so that our street and drainage infrastructure receives the investment necessary to repair, replace and upgrade our street and drainage systems throughout the city over the next 20-30 years.”

Here’s what I wrote in 2018 about the ReBuild re-vote. You can click the links to the Chron stories, but there’s nothing in either of them that mentioned a percentage of property taxes. The story mentions this was a part of the original mix of funding for ReBuild Houston, and here I have to confess I don’t remember that. There was so much noise and drama about the drainage fee that anything and everything else got overpowered. If this is what’s supposed to happen, then the consequences will be unpleasant. On the plus side, maybe it’ll take another decade to get settled via the courts.

The Chron on Boykins and Lovell

Time for more profiles of Mayoral candidates. Here’s the Chron piece on Dwight Boykins.

Dwight Boykins

“My goal is to use this position as mayor to let people know that there is hope,” [CM Dwight Boykins] said. “I’m trying to help the least and the last.”

His run was rumored long before he announced it in June after he had broken with Mayor Sylvester Turner, repeatedly criticizing and questioning his one-time ally’s ongoing feud with firefighters over pay parity issues. That outspokenness has won Boykins the union’s backing, and thousands of dollars in donations.

With Election Day less than a month away, Boykins does not pose a serious threat to Turner, who according to a recent poll leads his closest challenger, Houston lawyer Tony Buzbee, by 17 points. Boykins came in at fourth in the 12-person field, with 3.5 percent of the share of likely voters.

His “speak my mind” personality also has brought backlash: In July, he was criticized for telling teenage girls in a group of students at a youth advocacy summit to “keep their legs closed.” Boykins said he had been asked to “speak frankly” about the pitfalls for youth, including teen pregnancy.

In recent debates, though, Boykins’ voice largely has been drowned out as Buzbee, businessman Bill King and Turner increasingly trade barbs.

[…]

As mayor, Boykins wants to divert more money to parks and neighborhood programs, partner with outside groups for after-school tutoring programs, and increase police presence in the neighborhoods.

He also has promised to negotiate a contract between the city and its fire union within the first 60 days of his election, which he said would be financed in part by scrutinizing spending in other departments.

Yeah, I’m sure he’d like to do those things. Good luck figuring out how to pay for them, and as someone who’s been a part of multiple budget votes, I’m sure he knows that one can “scrutinize spending” all one wants, there won’t be any easy or significant savings to be found. Budget math aside, I said a long time ago that I would never support a candidate who opposed HERO, and Dwight Boykins voted against HERO on City Council. There’s not much else for me to say.

Next up is Sue Lovell.

Sue Lovell

Sue Lovell says Mayor Sylvester Turner got her fired by her largest consulting client, but that is not why she is running against him.

“I always wanted to run for mayor,” the former three-term at-large councilwoman said.

Lovell said she nearly ran in 2015, after then-mayor Annise Parker left office, but ultimately decided to pass.

This time around, she made the jump, saying she brings more credible experience at City Hall than any other candidate in the race.

During her six years on council, Lovell, 69, burnished a reputation as a candid and well-versed presence at City Hall, with a knack for gritty details and the bare knuckles to hold her own in a political fight. She forged those skills as an early and formative organizer with the Houston GLBT Political Caucus.

Those City Hall and progressive bona fides, perhaps, could have made Lovell a formidable challenge to Turner’s reelection chances. After a late entry into the race, however, Lovell is fighting for relevance in a contest that also features the 2015 runner-up, a self-funded lawyer spending millions on the campaign and an incumbent council member.

The only independent poll of likely voters last month found Lovell languishing with less than 1 percent of the vote. Her fundraising numbers similarly were dwarfed by the top four hopefuls, which has convinced debate hosts recently to leave her off the stage. She also has failed to garner the support of influential organizations with whom she has ties, including the Houston GLBT Political Caucus she once headed.

I have nothing but respect for Sue Lovell as a Council member, and unlike Boykins she’s on the right side of HERO. I can’t help but feel – and this is true of Boykins as well – that if it weren’t for the ridiculous firefighter pay parity fight, neither of them would be running for Mayor now. I can understand supporting Prop B, even if someone has carefully explained to you that there was no mechanism to pay for it, but that doesn’t mean I want such a person to be Mayor. Again, I’m not sure what else there is to say.

UH poll: Turner 43, Buzbee 23, King 8

Another encouraging poll for Mayor Turner as early voting starts.

Mayor Sylvester Turner retains a wide lead over his opponents, most of whom have failed to gain traction with weeks left until Election Day, according to a University of Houston poll released Sunday.

The poll, published on the eve of early voting, shows Turner with 43.5 percent support among likely voters, followed by lawyer and businessman Tony Buzbee at 23.4 percent. Bill King, Turner’s 2015 runoff opponent, trails with 7.8 percent, while 6.8 percent of voters said they support Councilman Dwight Boykins.

Former councilwoman Sue Lovell was backed by 1.2 percent of respondents, while 0.2 percent of voters said they support one of the other seven candidates. Another 17.2 percent of likely voters said they remain undecided.

For the poll, 501 likely voters were surveyed between Oct. 1 and Oct. 9. The margin of error is 4.4 percent.

Released weeks after a prior survey found Turner leading with 37 percent support, the new survey shows the mayor inching closer to the 50 percent-plus-one vote he would need to win the Nov. 5 election. If no candidate receives a majority of votes, the election will head to a December runoff between the top two finishers.

A significant share of undecided voters said they are considering Turner or view him favorably, results that indicate he has a narrow but unlikely path to outright victory on Nov. 5.

“Anything’s possible,” said Renée Cross, senior director of the Hobby School of Public Affairs and co-director of the poll. “Prior to this poll, I would have put my money on a runoff. But if you look at the undecided voters, there’s a possibility he could squeak it out in the general.”

See here for more on that previous poll, which was done by KHOU and Houston Public Media, and here for the details of this poll with the usual caveats about how tricky it is to poll municipal elections applying. I would not read this as evidence of Turner increasing his lead – it’s just two polls, two individual data points, there’s not nearly enough data to make claims about a trend – but it is corroborating evidence that Turner has a solid lead, that Buzbee hasn’t gotten much traction despite his millions in ads, and that Bill King is basically an afterthought. As with the other poll, Turner has a healthy, majority-support lead in runoffs with both Buzbee and King. This poll also found that a lot of undecideds lean Turner, and he’s pick up most of Boykins’ voters in overtime. Finally, Donald Trump has a 63-32 unfavorable rating in Houston, so the runoff campaign ads write themselves. All told, a whole lot of good and not much bad for Turner. I don’t know that I’d go so far as to say he could win in November – I think the path for that is too narrow – but he’s clearly in good shape.

Endorsement watch: Turner and Brown

The Chron saved its biggest endorsement editorials for the Sunday edition. I did expect them to endorse Mayor Turner for another term, and they delivered, with more of an emphasis on the campaign than I would have thought.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Bats aren’t blind. The Great Wall of China is not really visible from space. And vaccines do not cause autism.

Many people believe these myths because they’ve heard them repeated enough times. Statements that are familiar start to feel right, regardless of accuracy.

It’s called illusory truth effect. And it’s been a powerful weapon in Houston’s rough-and-tumble mayoral race.

Houstonians have been told – at forums, in news articles, and in a barrage of TV ads – that Mayor Sylvester Turner’s tenure has been mired in corruption, that Houston has grown into a dangerous place under his watch, that he ignored the will of the people on firefighter raises.

If true, this editorial board would have no qualms about recommending that voters throw the bum out.

But facts – the real ones, scrutinized thoroughly by the Chronicle’s reporters in the newsroom – show a different picture.

While weak ethics rules make pay-to-play politics a perennial concern in Houston and Harris County politics, Turner’s opponents have failed to land a bombshell that proves he has abused his power. The most high-profile attempt to discredit Turner, involving a $95,000 “executive internship” created at the airport for a man who called Turner his mentor, fizzled after it was reported that the salary was in line with the employee’s experience and education, including three degrees.

While Houston’s violent crime has risen 6 percent during Turner’s tenure, FBI data show the rate of nonviolent crime has fallen 9 percent and overall crime has dropped 6 percent. Houston, like many major cities across America, has experienced a significant drop in crime over the past 30 years.

On Prop B, the voter-approved measure that granted firefighters pay parity with police – and, on average, a 29 percent raise in a cash-strapped, revenue-capped city – the mayor made good on his word to implement the measure, and the consequences, including layoffs, before the police union successfully overturned it in court.

[…]

Bats aren’t blind and neither are we. Prop B showed Turner was willing to do the right thing even when it was the hard thing. That’s the vision Houston needs, and it’s why we recommend Sylvester Turner, once again, for mayor.

It’s a solid editorial, and obviously I agree with its conclusion. We could have a conversation about the media’s role in those “myths” – the KPRC story about the “intern” was an embarrassment – but what’s done is done. And if as the polls suggest Turner wins and we never have to hear the words “Tony Buzbee” again, then I’ll live with it.

Over in the Controller’s race, the Chron endorses Chris Brown, in a less ringing fashion.

Chris Brown

In a city where the mayor’s office holds as much power as it does in Houston, checks and balances to that power ought to be nurtured and protected.

One of the biggest — and let’s face it, one of the few — checks on the Houston mayor’s office is the city controller. That office, elected independently every four years, is responsible for reviewing the city’s finances and reporting on their soundness without fear or favor.

Just as important, the controller has sole discretion to decide which areas of government — from the police to affordable housing to garbage collection, or any of the hundreds of functions of City Hall — should be subjected to performance audits.

Orlando Sanchez, the former City Council member and three-term Harris County treasurer, argues that incumbent Controller Chris Brown has failed to make adequate use of his auditing authority and thus provide the vitally important independent check on Mayor Sylvester Turner.

Sanchez, who was voted out as Harris County treasurer in 2018, raises a legitimate concern: A review of audits authorized by Brown reveals mostly efforts to find ways City Hall can save money — always a welcome goal — and few sweeping assessments of high-profile city departments, which could help hold the administration accountable.

Consider how many of the major debates involving the races for mayor and Council have turned on questions about operations at major city departments — from police use of body cameras and no-knock warrants to the city’s use of drainage fee revenues and how Turner processed Harvey recovery funds.

But while Sanchez promises to use the audit function more aggressively, he has no experience doing so. As county treasurer, he mostly focused on writing checks and managing the county’s bills. The kind of aggressive, independent audit function he promises would be an entirely new role for him.

Honestly, the cold statement that Orlando Sanchez has no relevant experience after twelve years in elective office is all you really need. Use that paragraph in any future story that mentions Orlando Sanchez, if there ever is a need for there to be a story that mentions Orlando Sanchez. And vote for Chris Brown, he’s fine.

30 Day finance reports: Mayor and Controller

All right, I’ve made some progress in the endless number of city candidate finance reports. We’re in crunch time, and the 30 day reports can tell us not just what kind of momentum candidates have had, but also whether the later entrants into the races have gained any traction. Let’s get down to it.

To set the table, the Erik Manning spreadsheet is here, the June reports from Mayoral candidates are here, and the reports from Controller candidates (which in this case was just Chris Brown) are here. All of the reports that I have downloaded and inspected can be found in my Google folder, and any reports that were filed non-electronically can be found here.


Candidate     Raised      Spent     Loan     On Hand
====================================================
Turner       733,324  2,235,523        0   1,618,015
Buzbee     2,500,000  3,475,058        0   4,167,503
King         281,829    550,022  410,000     263,448
Boykins      130,105    141,779        0      58,103
Lovell        28,493     10,929        0      17,564
Baker         20,000     16,340        0       3,919
Broze          3,620      3,782        0       1,027
Houjami        1,324      1,490        0         111

Brown        100,990     61,079   75,000     274,291
Sanchez       45,057     33,207        0      23,651

Some of this we’ve already covered. As a reminder, Buzbee hasn’t actually “raised” any money, he’s just written himself a check for whatever amount it is he’s reporting. Which we know will be even bigger for the 8 day report. Nobody else is in the same league as Buzbee or Mayor Turner. I have to wonder if Bill King will write himself a big check this month just so he can get some ads on the air. As for Dwight Boykins and Sue Lovell, I don’t know what they expected when they entered this race, but I’m guessing this wasn’t it. I don’t see any changes in their fortunes ahead.

Chris Brown was a strong fundraiser in 2015, and he’s a strong fundraiser this year. I’ve seen more of his ads on TV than I’ve seen for Bill King. Orlando Sanchez is Orlando Sanchez, which mostly means his campaign signs are littering the empty lots and freeway overpasses again. I don’t have anything more to say than that. More finance reports will be coming soon.

The state will be handling the Harvey relief funds

Don’t worry your pretty little heads about it.

Texas is likely another nine months from getting $4.3 billion in federal post-Hurricane Harvey recovery money aimed at better protecting the state from future flooding and disasters. But when it finally arrives, Gov. Greg Abbott made clear Friday the state will be handling the money directly and not turning it over to cities and counties to manage.

While some local officials expressed frustration over the decision, Abbott said he’s turning to Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush to lead the program aimed at large-scale, regional projects. Bush has already been tasked with dealing with housing recovery issues since Harvey hit Texas in August 2017.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said she was hoping for more direct control over the funding.

“While we’re disappointed in Governor Abbott’s decision to run this program out of Austin instead of providing us local control, we’ll continue to work as a team to make sure we apply every single federal dollar available towards building a stronger, safer Harris County,” Hidalgo said.

Similarly Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said the city will continue to work closely with Bush’s agency, but made clear who will be to blame for delays in getting work completed.

“If there will be any delay in the distribution and use of flood mitigation aid, it will come from the federal and state government,” Turner said.

Texas has been waiting for the money since February 2018, when Congress first approved the disaster mitigation program. But it took until August for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to publish rules on how the money can be used.

Now, Bush and the Texas General Land Office are required to develop a “state action plan” that must later get yet another approval from HUD. According to a joint statement put out by Abbott and Bush on Friday, that could take another “nine months or more to complete.” That would mean July 2020 — just short of three years after Hurricane Harvey made landfall.

Here’s Mayor Turner’s statement about this. If one wants to feel cynical about this, one might note that while control of the funds will be with the state, blame for any delays or deficiencies will be laid on local officials, who are much more likely to be Democrats. How many people are going to understand it when blame gets pointed at the Land Commissioner? That’s not an intuitive place for these funds to originate, at the very least. Maybe this will all go well – if George P. Bush continues to have aspirations to run for Governor, he’ll have incentive to not screw this up or play politics in too obvious a fashion – but the incentives are not in alignment. Keep that in mind if and when there is something to complain about.

Oh, and since this story was published, both Greg Abbott and George P. Bush have been yelling at Mayor Turner on Twitter, for not being sufficiently grateful to them for the federal funds, which by the way still have not been released. So yeah, there’s good reason for being cynical.

Big Bucks Buzbee

It is, by far, his best asset.

Mayoral candidate Tony Buzbee put another $2.5 million into his campaign last month, widening his financial edge over Mayor Sylvester Turner heading into the stretch run of the race for Houston’s top elected office.

Buzbee’s total, made public in a campaign finance report filed Monday, means he now has contributed $10 million to his mayoral campaign.

Seeking a second term, Turner raised about $733,000 from July 1 through Sept. 26, the period covered by the latest report, and spent more than $2.2 million. He has about $1.6 million cash on hand, compared to Buzbee’s $4.2 million war chest.

The campaign finance reports due Monday were the first in Houston’s city elections since July, when candidates for mayor, controller and city council reported their fundraising and spending totals for the first six months of the year. The latest reports paint a clearer picture of each candidate’s financial strength with two weeks to go until early voting begins. Election Day is Nov. 5.

Turner and Buzbee each reported larger fundraising hauls than the rest of the 12-candidate field, including Bill King, a businessman and attorney who raised $282,000 during the latest period.

King, who narrowly lost to Turner in a 2015 runoff, also lent his campaign $200,000 and spent $550,000 on a mix of ads, campaign consulting fees and other costs, according to his campaign report.

Turner spent nearly $2.24 million during the period and heads into the stretch until Election Day with $1.62 million cash on hand, compared to King’s $263,000.

The mayor now has raised about $3.7 million since July last year and spent $4.2 million, compared to Buzbee’s $5.8 million spending total. King has raised about $967,000 since January, when he began fundraising in earnest, and has spent about $1.1 million.

A spokesperson for King’s campaign said he had passed $1 million in fundraising since Sept. 26, the last date covered by campaign finance reports, from more than 1,500 donors.

Councilman and mayoral candidate Dwight Boykins reported raising $130,000 and spending about $142,000, leaving him with about $58,000 cash on hand.

Former councilwoman Sue Lovell’s campaign finance report was not yet posted by the city secretary’s office as of 6 p.m. Monday.

I’m working my way through the finance reports now – the technical term for this is that there are “a metric crap-ton” of them. I’ll probably have summaries for you next week; I’ll aim to have the HD148 and HD28 reports later this week, once I start seeing them on the TEC website. In the meantime, I advise watching live sporting events on pause, or at least with your remote handy, to mute the onslaught of commercials that are coming our way. Practice some self-care, y’all.

The Chron’s overview of the Mayor

It’s a fair picture.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner hugged his way through three dozen staff and supporters, reached the podium, and smiled.

It was May 2017, and Turner’s landmark pension reform bill had just passed the Legislature, validating his decision to devote the first 17 months of his term almost exclusively to the city’s top fiscal challenge.

The longtime legislator finally had won the job on his third try, fulfilling a dream more than two decades in the making. His tenure had not been perfect — there was the Tax Day Flood, the tanking recycling market, two huge budget deficits.

This day, though, things were good.

“Let me just tell you,” Turner said, “this is one of those moments where you want to just kind of take it in and not let it pass too quickly.”

The moment would prove to be one of the last Turner — the first Houston mayor elected to a four-year term — could relish, unburdened by crisis.

Within four months, the mayor found his agenda dominated by catastrophic flooding wrought by the worst rainstorm in continental United States history, as well as a man-made crisis — a bitter fight over firefighters’ pay that led to a lopsided loss at the polls and, later, a win at the courthouse.

Those challenges, and Turner’s tendency to keep a tight grip on the reins of government and immerse himself in the details of decision-making, constrained what the mayor — and the allies who helped elect him to office — had hoped he would accomplish.

Most political observers expect Turner — who held a 17 percent lead over his nearest rival in a recent poll — to retain enough support to earn a second term. The mayor, however, has drawn plenty of detractors and underwhelmed some supporters, putting him in a less secure position than one might expect of an incumbent Democrat in a blue city.

You know I’m supporting Mayor Turner for re-election. I believe he’s generally done a good job, and I find his leading opponents to be somewhere between disingenuous, dishonest, and delusional in their alternate proposals. I wish he’d made more progress on some of the issues discussed in this story, but flooding and the firefighter saga have taken priority, and that’s just how it goes. The only one of his opponents that I’d trust to value those same priorities is Sue Lovell, and I have more faith in Turner to move them forward. Statements in the story about Turner’s control over the ordinance process have been made about every previous Mayor, and will continue to be made about future Mayors. We’re fine with Mayor Turner. I don’t feel fine about the alternatives. Sometimes it’s just as simple as that.

(There was a Chron profile of Bill King a couple of says earlier. I fell asleep each time I tried to read it.)

KHOU/HPM poll: Turner 37, Buzbee 20, King 10

We must be getting into the serious part of Houston Election Season, because we have our first public poll of the Mayor’s race.

Mayor Sylvester Turner leads trial lawyer and businessman Tony Buzbee by 17 points, according to a KHOU/Houston Public Media poll released Wednesday.

The survey of 516 registered likely voters found Turner well ahead of the 12-candidate field with 37 percent, followed by Buzbee at 19.6 percent and Bill King at 9.5 percent. The poll’s margin of error is 4.3 percent.

[…]

The poll shows Turner running far ahead of everyone else but with nowhere near enough support to win outright, said Bob Stein, a Rice University political science professor who conducted the poll from Sept. 3 to Sept. 15. Stein surveyed about two-thirds of respondents by cell phone and the rest by landline.

Councilman Dwight Boykins received 3.5 percent support in the poll, while 0.4 percent of voters said they likely would vote for former city councilwoman Sue Lovell.

Otherwise, 3.3 percent of respondents said they likely would support a candidate other than Turner, Buzbee, King, Boykins or Lovell. Another 21.5 percent were undecided, and 5.2 percent refused to respond.

Early voting starts Oct. 21, with election day on Nov. 5. If no candidate finishes with 50 percent plus one vote, the race will be decided in a December runoff between the top two finishers.

In a potential runoff matchup, the poll found Turner beating Buzbee 54.6 percent to 40.2 percent, and King by 56.8 to 34.1 percent.

The KHOU story is here and the Houston Public Media story is here, along with an interview with Bob Stein. Stein says he’s a little surprised that King is polling third; he attributes this to Buzbee spending a crap-ton of money so far. I’d say that’s mostly true, with the additional note that King has the charisma of a soggy corn flake, and basically has no issue to run on this year. Buzbee has no issues either, and even less of a clue, but he does have a lot of money, and that does help.

If you look back at the Mayoral polling from 2015, it was reasonably accurate to a first approximation. Adrian Garcia polled better than Bill King, but King finished ahead of him in the race. Steve Costello, Chris Bell, and Ben Hall were in the next tier, though in the end Hall finished above the other two. The polling on HERO was exactly wrong, and that may have been the result of skewed turnout assumptions, which in the end may have also helped King. Every election is different, and Turner is an incumbent this time, so be very careful in drawing conclusions. The point I’m making here is that the most recent polling examples we had were fairly decent snapshots of the race.

Another way to look at this: Thirty-seven percent of respondents named Sylvester Turner as their choice. Adding up the other numbers, a smidge more than thirty-six percent of respondents named someone else as their first choice. Make of that what you will.

One more thing:

The poll also found 58.5 percent of respondents support Metro’s $3.5 billion bond proposal, which would authorize the transit authority to move forward on a menu of projects that includes light rail extensions and the expanded use of bus rapid transit. Only 10.5 percent are opposed to the proposal, the survey found, while 31 percent were undecided.

This is where I point out that people who do not live in Houston will also be voting on the Metro referendum, so this poll is not fully representative. The city of Houston is generally between 65 and 70 percent of total turnout in Harris County in these odd-year elections, and here is where I note that the Metro service area excludes some parts of Harris County, mostly the city of Pasadena. If the Metro referendum is polling this well in the city, it’s likely headed towards passage, but there are non-city votes out there as well, so adjust your expectations accordingly.

Do you believe in magical thinking?

I did not read this long profile of Tony Buzbee, because life is short and we all have better things to do. I did briefly scan the print version a bit, and in doing so I noticed the following paragraph, which tells you everything you need to know about Tony Buzbee, Loudmouth Rich Guy Who Wants To Be Mayor:

Buzbee opposes the idea of lifting Houston’s property tax revenue cap. Instead, he wants to enact budget cuts he says will fund his proposals, such as hiring 2,000 police officers in eight years — which would spike the department’s budget by almost 40 percent — and granting firefighters pay parity with police.

This is impossible. It literally cannot be done. Do you remember when Mayor Annise Parker was faced with a big deficit in 2010 following the economic crash, which caused property tax revenues to plummet? She ran on a promise of balancing the budget without making any cuts to the police or fire departments, and she achieved that in large part by laying off over 700 municipal employees. Someone with a more detailed knowledge of the current budget would have to run the numbers to check this, but to hire that many new police officers and give the firefighters a raise of that magnitude, I would question whether there are enough municipal employees left to lay off to pay for it. I mean, if we don’t want trash collection or a permitting department or building inspectors or anyone working in the parks and libraries – and maybe if we also defaulted on our bonds – you could make it work. I guarantee you, Tony Buzbee has not done the math to show how he could make it work.

On a side note, let me refer you to this:

Houston Police Officers’ Union President Joe Gamaldi questioned whether the department would even have enough cars, uniforms and equipment to handle the increased headcount.

“We would love to see that type of growth,” Gamaldi said. “But realistically, we’ve never hired more than 375 people in a fiscal year, so we would really need to look to see if HPD’s infrastructure can even handle that.”

Note that this story has Buzbee hiring those two thousand cops over his first four years. I mean, when the president of the police officers’ union says that your plan to hire 500 cops a year every year for four years is a bit much…

Curfew changes

A good step, but I agree with the argument that it doesn’t go far enough.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

City council on Wednesday eliminated Houston’s daytime juvenile curfew, but stopped short of ditching the ordinance altogether despite pleas from advocacy groups who say the restrictions fail to deter crime and can burden young people with criminal records.

The amended ordinance would keep the existing nighttime curfew in effect, but would lower potential fines from $500 to $50. Teens cited under the ordinance also would be diverted to a teen court through the municipal court system.

The nighttime curfew prohibits youngsters aged 10 to 16 from being on the streets without an adult between the hours of 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. on weekdays, and midnight to 6 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Kids traveling to and from work or a school-, religious- or government-sponsored activity are exempted from the curfew.

The amended ordinance also now grants the mayor the authority to impose a temporary curfew of up to 180 days, if requested by the Houston police chief.

Mayor Sylvester Turner said the changes were an attempt to “strike a balance” between those who believe citations can deter children from crime, and reform groups that say they needlessly push children into the criminal justice system at a formative age.

Houston adopted its first curfew ordinance in 1991, amid a national wave of laws that sought to curtail crime.

The number of curfew citations issued by Houston police has fallen dramatically since its peak of 14,300 in 1996, according to data provided to city council’s public safety committee in June. By last year, the number of citations had fallen to 137.

Various studies have shown little effect of curfew laws on juvenile crime or victimization rates, which is why reform groups wanted curfew citations to be changed to civil offenses or eliminated altogether under the new rules.

There’s a quote in the story from Texas Advocates for Justice that applauds the change, and a quote from United We Dream arguing that it didn’t go far enough because any criminal charge against an immigrant can be used as a justification for being deported. I tend to agree with the latter view. If we accept that crime is on a long-term downward trend, and that curfew laws were a perhaps well-intentioned but utterly ineffective means for fighting crime, then it’s hard to see why we wouldn’t just ditch the whole thing. For sure, from a criminal justice reform perspective, there are much higher priorities than ticketing kids who are out after midnight. I appreciate that Council has taken this step, but the job is unfinished.

No, crime is not up in Houston

Facts are stubborn things.

Like the rest of the country, crime in Houston has plummeted over the last 30 years, as has residents’ fear of crime being the city’s most pressing problem. FBI data show that most categories of crime in Houston have fallen or remained stagnant during Turner’s term, which began in January 2016. Criminologists also scoff at the claim that Houston is among the country’s most dangerous cities.

Violent crime is down more than 10 percent from 2017, during its peak under Turner’s administration, according to preliminary FBI data. Non-violent crime has dropped about 6 percent since 2015.

From 2015 to 2018, murders dropped and robberies fell; burglaries decreased; thefts fell; and fewer vehicles were stolen. The exceptions were aggravated assaults and rapes, which rose in 2017 before declining again in 2018.

[…]

“We are at the bottom of a 30-year decline, more or less, in the crime rate,” said Scott Henson, of Just Liberty, a criminal justice reform nonprofit.

In Turner’s first year in office, for example, criminals murdered 301 Houstonians. The city saw 279 murders in 2018, a slight uptick from 269 in 2017.

The city’s murder rate is four times that of New York, the safest large city in the United States, and a sixth of St. Louis, the nation’s most deadly. A survey of the nation’s 297 largest cities (meaning they had populations of 100,000 or more) shows Houston’s ranked 75th in murders, and 31st in violent crime.

“When we talk about the murder capitals of the country, the violent crime capitals of the country, Houston is not one of the cities people put on that list,” said Jeff Asher, a New Orleans-based criminologist. “At least anyone familiar with the data.”

Ames Grawert, senior counsel for the Justice Program at the Brennan Center for Justice in New York, said it is misleading to compare the crime rate of a city with 2.3 million people to those of small towns, which frequently have much lower crime rates.

A more accurate measure, he said, would be to look at other large cities across the country.

Among the nation’s 30 largest cities, Houston’s murder rate “is thoroughly middle of the road,” Grawert said. “I don’t see Houston as being one of the more ‘violent’ places in the country.”

And while criminologists acknowledge the city’s overall crime rate is indeed higher than 95 percent of other American cities, towns, and villages, they say such comparisons overinflate the importance of more common but less serious crimes like thefts.

“As a major American city, Houston has some crime,” said Asher. “That’s the same as me saying Houston has more trash cans than 95 percent of cities … Houston is one of the largest cities in the country. Of course it does.”

Experts say it is not useful to measure crime on a year-to-year basis because one-year outliers do not accurately reflect trends or significant changes in crime patterns.

Since 1985, the annual number of murders has risen as high as 608 in 1991 and as low as 198 in 2011. Overall, the city’s murder rate has trended downward from about 26.5 per 100,000 to 11.5 per 100,000 in 2018.

“Houston is safer than has been for a really long time, honestly, is the truth of it,” said Henson.

This article was written because the non-Mayors in the Mayoral race were all claiming that crime is up and mayhem is rampant. I mean, what else do they have to talk about? I don’t know about some of these candidates, but I was living here in 1991, and I remember what it was like. I remember looking for rental properties with my roommates in Houston and noticing that the most prominent feature on many places in Montrose was burglar bars. I remember that the conventional wisdom was that single women should not live in the Heights because it wasn’t safe for them. Hell, when I bought my first house in the Heights in 1997, Tiffany’s parents (who live in Bellaire) were worried about its location. The Houston we live in now is so much safer.

One more thing: Insistence that the city is swamped by crime leads naturally to a demand for more aggressive policing – more traffic stops, more “broken windows”-type arrests, more zero-tolerance mindset, etc. We all know what that means for minority communities. At a time when people are recognizing the great harm that over-incarceration and the “war on drugs” have caused, this is dangerous and deeply out of step with the popular will. And pretty much what I’d expect from King and Buzbee, the two loudest voices in that story. Grits, who was quoted in the story, has more.

It’s not really a campaign until there are attack ads

I have three things to say about this.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner launched a television ad Monday attacking Tony Buzbee for donating to President Donald Trump’s inauguration committee, marking the mayor’s first major attempt to link his political opponent to the president.

Buzbee, a millionaire businessman and lawyer, is one of 11 candidates running for mayor against Turner, who is seeking a second four-year term in November.

In the summer of 2016, Buzbee hosted a fundraiser for Trump — who was then the presumptive Republican nominee — at his mansion in River Oaks.

In October 2016, after a video surfaced in which Trump is heard bragging about groping women, Buzbee disavowed Trump, posting on social media, “Sorry Donald. I’m done with you. Completely.”

He later contributed $500,000 to Trump’s inauguration committee.

Turner’s ad opens with a clip of Trump calling Mexican immigrants “rapists” at his 2015 campaign launch speech, when Trump also accused immigrants of bringing drugs and crime across the border.

“Noise, and more noise, from Donald Trump and his imitator, Tony Buzbee,” a narrator’s voice says.

1. Ideally, incumbents prefer to be able to run campaigns that don’t acknowledge their opposition. Even the most devastating negative ad still has the effect of raising the opponent’s name ID. Attacking Buzbee means there’s more value in trying to take him down than the downside of introducing him to a wider audience.

2. Buzbee is of course a target-rich environment, with his ties to Donald Trump and Rick Perry, his general douche-bro profile, his loose relationship with accurate information, and the fact that he’s basically a loudmouth know-it-all with no experience in government. You know, kind of like some other guy who was also a very bad idea to vote for.

3. The thing about running attack ads in a multi-candidate race is that it can have the side effect of improving the position of the candidate or candidates who are neither the target nor the instigator of the ad. Is Turner attacking Buzbee in hope of softening him up for the runoff, or in hope of knocking him out so he’ll face someone else in the runoff? Hard to say. If he keeps this up for weeks, or if he goes on to attack other candidates, we’ll have a better idea.

“No confidence”

The latest from the firefighters.

Houston Fire Chief Sam Peña will face a “no confidence” vote by members of the city’s fire union over what nearly 100 district chiefs say has been a lack of leadership and a failure to adequately equip or pay firefighters.

The vote, which is expected to take place in the next week, would have no practical effect on Peña’s position. Mayor Sylvester Turner is the only person who can remove Peña from the post he has held since the mayor appointed him in 2016.

The union’s Tuesday announcement marks the latest development in the increasingly fraught relationship between rank-and-file firefighters and the Turner administration.

Peña and Turner separately called the criticisms unfair and said the vote was part of a broader political campaign to discredit the city’s current leadership.

You can see a copy of the letter they sent here. Some of this is about Prop B, some is about the lack of a collective bargaining agreement and the current level of firefighter pay, some of it is about proposals to move from four shifts to three shifts (which is something that has been proposed in the past as well). The vote itself is symbolic – Mayor Turner is not going to fire Chief Peña.

I’m going to make a prediction: A year from now, the firefighters are still going to be unhappy. Very likely, firefighter unhappiness will still be an issue the next time we elect a Mayor in 2023. The firefighters have been unhappy with the Mayor going back to at least Mayor Lee Brown. I don’t see that changing any time soon.

Checking in on the Mayor’s race

Remember the Mayor’s race? Yeah, that.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

“The candidates have been running for months but were focused on fundraising and defining their message,” said Nancy Sims, a Houston political analyst. “Labor Day is when people tune into the election.”

The stretch-run of the race follows months of campaigning from Buzbee, a businessman and trial lawyer who announced his candidacy last October. King, also a businessman and lawyer, joined the race in February, then the field expanded in June with the candidacy of District D Councilman Dwight Boykins and, weeks later, former At-Large Councilwoman Sue Lovell.

Seven other lesser-known candidates also are running.

Despite vigorous campaigning from Turner’s opponents, the race has yet to reach its loudest pitch, in part because Turner only has appeared at campaign events without other mayoral candidates. Earlier this week, Buzbee and King criticized the mayor for not yet attending any candidate forums.

A Turner campaign spokesperson said he was not invited to the Wednesday forum or to a prior forum held in June by the Lake Houston Pachyderm Club, which Buzbee and King attended.

Even as the race heats up, mayoral candidates are battling with a bloated field of Democratic presidential candidates for the attention of Houston voters, who typically do not tune into city elections en masse until September.

“I think the challenge for the city candidates this year is that they are greatly overshadowed by the 2020 race,” Sims said. “They are struggling to get the attention they need for people to focus in on the city elections.”

Even without distractions, such as the Sept. 12 Democratic presidential debate in Houston, municipal candidates often struggle to drag voters to the polls: Just 27 percent of registered Houston voters turned out in the 2015 race, the first time since 2003 that turnout was more than 20 percent.

Still, the candidates are entering the critical part of the race with ample resources to draw out voters. Buzbee is self-funding his campaign and as of June 30 had contributed $7.5 million of his personal wealth. He had spent more than $2.3 million at the same point, and recently made a six-figure TV ad buy through the end of September.

“Tony Buzbee is a very unique candidate because of his ability to self-fund, so the normal rules and strategies regarding TV don’t really apply to him, because he effectively has a bottomless wallet,” said Mark Jones, a political science professor at Rice University. “For other candidates who have to keep their powder dry, we’re unlikely to see major media buys until the first or second week of October.”

We’ve discussed this before, but as a reminder what drives turnout in city elections is a high profile referendum on the ballot. Contested Mayoral races are a factor too, but the addition of a referendum is the difference between 2003 (381K votes, Metro light rail referendum) or 2015 (286K votes, HERO repeal) and 2009 (181K, no referendum). Even without a contested Mayor’s race, a sufficiently hot ballot item can bring a lot of voters out – see, for example, 2005 (332K, anti-gay marriage Constitutional amendment). The Metro referendum this year isn’t nearly as controversial as the 2003 one was, and there may not be any astroturf opposition effort to it, but Metro will be pushing voters to the polls as well as the candidates are, and that should boost turnout a bit.

I would also push back against the notion that no one pays much attention to the Mayoral races before Labor Day, and I’d point to the last three open Mayoral elections as evidence. Bill White was running those white-background ads in 2003 early on in the year. Annise Parker, Gene Locke, and Peter Brown were releasing position papers and talking about ideas for traffic, crime, neighborhoods, economic development, and a whole lot of other things well before September. The pension issue, HERO, and the Adrian Garcia will-he-or-won’t-he tease dominated 2015. Maybe it was just the more engaged voters tuning in, but speaking as one of those engaged voters, there was a lot more happening in those past elections than there has been in this one.

Why might that be? Well, let me summarize the campaigns of the main Turner opponents so far.

Bill King: I’m a rich old guy who was once the Mayor of a town with fewer people than most HISD high schools, and I’m not Sylvester Turner.

Tony Buzbee: I’m a rich guy who’s buddies with Rick Perry, and I’m not Sylvester Turner.

Dwight Boykins: I’m not Sylvester Turner, and I supported Prop B.

Sue Lovell: I’m not Sylvester Turner, I supported Prop B, and unlike these other guys I also supported HERO.

I mean, you tell me why the excitement level has been set to “Meh”. I don’t see a whole lot changing from here, and it will be turned up to 11 in the runoff. Welcome to election season, y’all.

The children will count us

Great idea for something that shouldn’t have to be the case.

Teresa Flores knows the costs of a census undercount as well as anyone.

As the executive director of the Hidalgo County Head Start Program, one of the area’s most underfunded services, she watched low funding after a 2010 undercount cap the program’s maximum enrollment around 3,600 students.

More than 14,000 other children could qualify for the program, Flores estimates, but she barely has enough money to maintain the current level of enrollment — even with additional state grants.

Many of her students come from immigrant and non-English speaking households, two groups that are among the hardest to count in Texas. Though the efforts to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census form failed, she’s spoken with families who still fear inquires into their citizenship. But as someone with a long-established role in the community, Flores said she’s been able to relieve anxieties about sending information to the government and correct misinformation. By herself though, she can’t do that for everyone.

In looking for new approaches to census engagement — ones that residents can trust — the Hidalgo County committee focused on getting a complete count of the area’s population is increasingly targeting its outreach toward an unconventional group of residents: children and teenagers.

“When parents come and sign their children in and out, we’re able to speak with them about their participation,” Flores said. “Children could be the best people to continue those conversations all night long once they get home, and ease those concerns on a long-term basis.”

[…]

Victoria Le isn’t sure whether her parents filled out census forms in 2010. But after working on a complete count campaign at her school, the 18-year-old said she’s making sure they do this time.

Le is a recent graduate of Alief Early College High School in southwest Houston, where she and 15 other students spent months researching new approaches to fighting an undercount and marketing those plans to hard to count residents. Their work was initially regarded by other students as nothing more than a minor passion project, Le said.

Then the group threw its first major event last spring, where students competed for prizes as they learned more about the census and ways to get their families engaged.

“It was just an insane success,” said Jordan Carswell, the program’s director. “When people see half the student body showing up and going completely crazy over census games, they start asking questions. They knew how to get their peers energized, and when you see how passionate they are about it, it’s hard to not to feel the same way.”

Carswell said the campaign came together when Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner asked him to get students involved with census engagement. Alief ISD is part of Houston and Harris County’s joint $4 million effort to achieve an accurate count. There’s also a coalition of more than 50 local nonprofits and organizations working with them to mobilize communities.

I think this is both great and awful. It’s great that there’s such creativity and commitment to getting as full and accurate a Census count as possible. It’s awful that our Legislature refused to offer any help to cities to achieve that. That has left cities like Houston and others to their own devices, because what else can they do? There was a time when everyone agreed that the Census was important, and getting it right was vital to all of our interests. The only way forward from here is to elect more people who still think that way.

Is there anything Houston can do about gun violence?

Not much, unfortunately.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner on Wednesday said he wants state lawmakers to give cities and counties more flexibility to address gun violence in response to mass shootings this month that killed 31 people, including 22 in El Paso.

Turner made the remarks at City Hall while calling for a special session of the Texas Legislature on the issue of gun violence.

Current state law mostly forbids local governments from passing measures that restrict gun usage.

Among the items Turner said he would like to pursue are background checks on firearms sales at gun shows, including those that have been held at the George R. Brown Convention Center.

“If I could do it today, I would do it today,” Turner told reporters. “But the state has preempted us.”

[…]

In March, Turner announced the city was establishing a task force to combat local gun violence. Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo has been an outspoken advocate for stricter gun laws, telling Congress earlier this year that gun violence is “one of the greatest public health epidemics facing the nation.”

Turner also allocated $1 million for police overtime pay in April to help officers fight gun violence.

Turner’s comments Wednesday echo those made last week by Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, who floated the idea of ending the use of county property for gun shows. The county, however, has no power to enact ordinances.

Hidalgo said Wednesday she is working with Turner on a proposal to take “whatever action we can.”

“We are hamstrung by the legislature. They have passed laws specifically preventing us from making policy around gun safety,” Hidalgo said. “We’re really looking under every nook and cranny for what can be done.”

Dru Stevenson, a law professor at South Texas College of Law Houston, said the state’s lock on local action largely is absolute.

“The state preempts municipalities from having any type of gun control regulation at all,” Stevenson said.

Even Hidalgo’s idea about ending use of county buildings for gun shows likely would not pass muster, according to Stevenson, due to how strict the state preemptions are.

“They’re more likely to get away with it informally than if they adopt a policy,” he said. “Behind the scenes pressure or incentives might work, but the gun shows are big and lucrative for the conference centers.”

There may be some other things the city could try, but the story doesn’t suggest anything interesting. As with a number of other vexing issues, the real solution lies in another level of government. Really, both state and federal for this one, but there’s probably more direct action that could be taken at the state level, if only by undoing the restrictions that have been imposed. That means the first real chance to get something done will be at the federal level, if all goes well in 2020. We’re not getting anything done in Austin until Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick, at the very least, have been sent packing.

The 2019 lineups are set

Barring any late disqualifications or other unexpected events, we have the candidates we’re getting on our 2019 ballot.

More than 125 candidates turned in paperwork to run for city office by Monday’s filing deadline, setting up a packed November ballot likely to leave every incumbent with at least one opponent.

The unusually crowded field is driven largely by the city’s move in 2015 to extend term limits, allowing officials to serve two four-year terms instead of three two-year terms, said Rice University political science Professor Bob Stein.

“It used to be that you just wouldn’t run against an incumbent. You would wait until they term-limited out,” Stein said. “Candidates are no longer getting the two-year pass.”

Thirteen candidates have filed to run for mayor, including incumbent Sylvester Turner, who is running for a second four-year term. Turner’s challengers include his 2015 runoff opponent, Bill King, lawyer and business owner Tony Buzbee, Councilman Dwight Boykins and former councilwoman Sue Lovell.

By Friday evening, the city’s legal department had approved applications from at least 97 candidates. Another 28 candidates had filed for office and were awaiting approval from the city attorney’s office, and an unknown additional number of candidates filed just before the 5 p.m. deadline.

Ten candidates were officially on the ballot for mayor, with three others awaiting legal department approval by the close of business Monday.

Early voting begins Oct. 21 and Election Day is Nov. 5.

Late additions include retreads like Orlando Sanchez, who I guess hasn’t found steady work since being booted as Treasurer, and Eric Dick, seeking to become the next Griff Griffin, who by the way also filed. Sanchez is running for Controller, while Dick is in At Large #5, and Griff is once again running in At Large #2.

And there’s also HISD.

Two Houston ISD trustees filed paperwork Monday to seek re-election and will each face a single challenger, while several candidates will jostle to fill two other open seats on a school board that could soon be stripped of power.

HISD Board President Diana Dávila and Trustee Sergio Lira made their re-election runs official hours before Monday’s afternoon deadline, while trustees Jolanda Jones and Rhonda Skillern-Jones will not seek another term.

Thirteen newcomers will aim to unseat the two incumbents or win vacant spots on the board. The prospective trustees will square off in a November general election and, if necessary, runoff elections in December.

So much for them all resigning. You can read each of the stories in toto to see who gets name-checked, or you can peruse the Erik Manning spreadsheet, which is fortified with essential vitamins and minerals. Note also that in the HCC races, Monica Flores Richart has the task of taking out the reprehensible Dave Wilson, while Rhonda Skillern-Jones faces Brendon Singh and Kathy Lynch Gunter for the trustee slot that Wilson is abandoning in his desperate attempt to stay on the Board, and Cynthia Gary appears to have no opposition in her quest to succeed Neeta Sane. Leave a comment and let us know what you think of your 2019 Houston/HISD/HCC candidates.

City moves forward on Vision Zero

Good.

Mayor Sylvester Turner on Tuesday adopted a plan that aims to end traffic fatalities and serious traffic injuries in Houston by 2030.

The “Vision Zero Houston” plan is considered a significant step in the city’s mobility strategy and will change how officials design roads and sidewalks, according to a city news release. The plan, adopted as part of an executive order, will prioritize “engineering, education, enforcement, equity and evaluation,” the release said.

“Some will say this goal is unachievable,” Turner said in the release. “But I say, no loss of life is acceptable on our roadways, None, ZERO.”

Many cities that have adopted the plan reported steady declines in traffic deaths and injuries over the last few years, the release said. The mayor will establish an executive committee of leaders from city departments, surrounding counties, METRO and the Texas Department of Transportation to devise the strategy by this time next year.

See here and here for more on Vision Zero as it pertains to Houston, and here for further blogging. While Vision Zero has been adopted by San Antonio and Austin, but it’s been awhile since we’d heard much here. The Mayor’s press release is here, and if you want to do a deeper dive on what this means, see here, here, and here. This is a long-term process that’s going to involve things like lower speed limits, more and better sidewalks, and a bunch of other changes big and small that will be phased in, with new construction being done to the Vision Zero standard. You’ll be hearing plenty more as we go along.

On to the next big financial issue for the city

It’s always something.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Four years ago, the main source of Houston’s deteriorating financial health — billions of dollars in unfunded pension obligations — loomed over the race for mayor, promising a massive test for the winner.

Now, Mayor Sylvester Turner, having overhauled the city’s troubled pension systems, is running for re-election and touting the reforms as his signature policy accomplishment. He faces several challengers, including Bill King, the businessman he defeated four years ago, millionaire lawyer and self-funder Tony Buzbee, City Councilman Dwight Boykins who has clashed with the mayor over firefighter pay and former Councilwoman Sue Lovell, as well as a handful of lesser known candidates.

Whoever wins will be forced to confront another simmering financial problem: Houston’s $2.4 billion unfunded liability for retiree health care costs, the result of years of deferred contributions, an aging city workforce and, experts say, growing medical costs that outpace the city’s revenue.

The total has grown in recent years by an average of $160 million a year, or more than $400,000 a day. That is less than the $8.2 billion unfunded pension liability’s $1 million-per-day growth rate, but enough to require swift and sweeping changes, experts and local officials say.

“We’re in the earlier stages in this. It’s not a crisis by any means, but it would be better to address it now,” Controller Chris Brown said. “We don’t want to let this thing grow to another $8 billion unfunded liability. … Let’s pay a little now instead of paying a lot later.”

The unfunded liability refers to the city’s obligations in the coming decades for retired employees’ medical, life and prescription drug insurance, commonly called other post-employment benefits, or OPEB. Houston has covered its OPEB expenses through a pay-as-you-go system, akin to making a minimum credit card payment while the balance grows.

[…]

“We have also been in discussions with the employee groups working toward consensus, while keeping in mind the sacrifices employees have made to help us achieve the city’s historic pension reform,” Turner said.

The proposals align with recommendations from a separate firm, Philadelphia-based PFM, which said in its 10-year Houston financial plan the city should eliminate OPEB coverage altogether for retirees or dependents who have access to other coverage.

Other cities have taken a similar approach, limiting cuts for retirees and older employees who were promised certain benefits, while requiring bigger sacrifices from younger and future employees with more time to prepare.

The good news here is that the city doesn’t need to go through the Lege to fix this, and the basic plan for a fix is already in the works. Mayor Turner will be proposing his plan later in the year, and most likely that will put the city on a path towards containing this problem. There’s still a big piece of the puzzle missing, though.

Even after reigning in the city’s OPEB liability, Brown said, the city faces numerous looming financial problems, including annual deferred maintenance and, in the recent city budget, recurring spending that outstrips recurring revenue. In addition, Houston has been operating under a voter-imposed cap on property tax revenue since 2004 and has trimmed its tax rate to avoid collecting more money than allowed.

“This is another piece of the larger problem that’s looming for the city of Houston, which is the structurally imbalanced budget,” Brown said. “Essentially, we want to be paying for all of our current expenses in the fiscal year in full. And we don’t want to defer anything out, i.e. kick the can down the road.”

Yes, the revenue cap, which costs the city many millions of dollars for no good purpose. There’s a lot the city can do to control costs, but not everything is within its power. Some things just get more expensive over time, and if the city is not allowed to reap the benefit of economic growth, it cannot deal with those expenses. If we can get past this issue, and Mayor Turner gets re-elected, then maybe, just maybe, we can get a rev cap repeal measure on the 2020 ballot. There will never be a friendlier electorate to deal with t.

Metro referendum is set

Here we go.

Metropolitan Transit Authority board members voted Tuesday to ask voters in November for permission to borrow up to $3.5 billion, without raising taxes. The money would cover the first phase of what local leaders expect to be the start of shifting Houston from a car-focused city to a multimodal metro region — even if it does not put everyone on a bus or train.

“Even if you ride in your car, it is more convenient if there are less cars on the road,” Metro chairwoman Carrin Patman said.

The item will be on the Nov. 5 ballot, the first vote for new transit projects in 16 years for the Houston region.

The bond proposition would authorize Metro to move forward on a $7.5 billion suite of projects including extending the region’s three light rail lines, expanding the use of bus rapid transit — large buses operating mostly in dedicated lanes — along key corridors such as Interstate 10 and to Bush Intercontinental Airport, and creating two-way high-occupancy vehicle or high-occupancy toll lanes along most Houston’s freeways.

“It doesn’t do everything we would like to do, but it does everything we can afford to do,” Metro board member Jim Robinson said.

In addition, the ballot item calls for extending the general mobility program, which hands over one-quarter of the money Metro collects from its 1 percent sales tax to local governments that participate in the transit agency. The 15 cities and Harris County use the money mostly for street improvements, but they can use it for other projects such as sidewalks, bike lanes and, in limited cases, landscaping and traffic safety and enforcement.

Local elected officials and business leaders will soon stump for the plan, which has not drawn sizable or organized opposition but is likely to require some persuasion.

[…]

Transit officials would also need to secure an estimated $3.5 billion in federal money, most likely via the Federal Transit Administration, which doles out money for major transit projects. Federal officials contributed $900 million of the $2.2 billion cost of the 2011-2017 expansion of light rail service.

The federal approval will largely dictate when many of the rail and bus rapid transit lines are built as well as where the projects run, Patman said. Though officials have preferred routes for certain projects — such as light rail to Hobby Airport or bus rapid transit along Gessner — those projects and others could change as the plans are studied further.

“Routes will only be determined after discussions with the community,” Patman said. “I don’t think anyone needs to worry about a route being forced upon them.”

Metro would have some latitude to prod some projects along faster than others, based on other regional road and highway projects. Speedier bus service between the Northwest Transit Center at I-10 and Loop 610, for example, could happen sooner if a planned widening of Interstate 10 within Loop 610 remains a priority for the Houston-Galveston Area Council, which has added the project to its five-year plan. Work on widening the freeway is scheduled for 2021, giving Metro officials a chance to make it one of the first major projects.

I must admit, I’d missed that HOV lane for I-10 inside the Loop story. I wish there were more details about how exactly this might be accomplished, but as someone who regularly suffers the torment of driving I-10 inside the Loop, I’m intrigued. This would effectively be the transit link from the Northwest Transit Center, which by the way is also the location of the Texas Central Houston terminal and downtown. This is something that has been bandied about since 2015, though it was originally discussed as a rail line, not BRT. (I had fantasies about the proposed-but-now-tabled Green Line extension down Washington Avenue as a means to achieve this as well.) Such is life. Anyway, this is something I definitely need to know more about.

You can see the full plan as it has now been finalized here. Other BRT components include a north-south connection from Tidwell and 59 down to UH, which then turns west and essentially becomes the Universities Line, all the way out to Richmond and Beltway 8, with a dip down to Gulfton along the way, and a north-south connection from 290 and West Little York down Gessner to Beltway 8. The Main Street light rail line would extend north to the Shepherd park and ride at I-45, and potentially south along the US90 corridor into Fort Bend, all the way to Sugar Land. Go look at the map and see for yourself – there are HOV and park and ride enhancements as well – it’s fairly well laid out.

I feel like this referendum starts out as a favorite to pass. It’s got something for most everyone, there’s no organized opposition at this time, and Metro has not been in the news for bad reasons any time recently. I expect there to be some noise about the referendum in the Mayor’s race, because Bill King hates Metro and Tony Buzbee is an idiot, but we’re past the days of John Culberson throwing his weight around, and for that we can all be grateful. I plan to reach out to Metro Chair Carrin Patman to interview her about this, so look for that later on. What do you think?

Revisiting City Council redistricting

This would be interesting.

At Wednesday’s council meeting, District E Councilmember Dave Martin said the city should consider redrawing city council district boundaries, particularly in his own district.

District E includes two far-flung suburbs, Kingwood and Clear Lake. Martin said it’s a “ridiculously arranged council district” where it is difficult to coordinate meetings.

“I’ve always felt that the folks in Clear Lake do indeed deserve their own representation there, because it is tough for someone to drive 60 miles on a weekend to get to a certain area,” Martin said.

Mayor Sylvester Turner agreed with Martin’s assessment of District E.

“I will tell you it is an interesting drawing,” Turner said. “Because you certainly cannot go from Kingwood to Clear Lake for a town hall meeting, two town hall meetings.”

Turner said he would support taking a look at the map after the 2020 census.

“I don’t know what the thinking was back then,” Turner said. “But it does seem to be not in the best interest of two areas that are so geographically separated. I think it’s worth taking a look at.”

There’s a copy of the map embedded in the story, and you can also see it here, with links to individual district maps here. It’s true that District E is this two-headed amalgam of far-apart suburbs, with a bit of connecting tissue in between, but any proposed solution to address that is complicated. The problem is that the Kingwood part of E abuts District B, and the Clear Lake part borders on Districts D and I. Any redesign of the current map that would split District E into separate parts has to take into account merging a bunch of white Republicans with a bunch of black and Latinx Democrats. Even before we take Voting Rights Act requirements into consideration, I can guarantee you that a substantial number of people would be unhappy with any alternative.

What you could do is reduce the size of individual districts to be roughly the size of the Kingwood and Clear Lake pieces, then redraw the map with however many districts there would be with such smaller population requirements. That would result in a map with anywhere from 15 to 21 districts, depending on how much you padded out the two halves of E. We can debate whether that’s a good idea or a bad idea, but we’d also probably need a charter amendment to make it happen.

Personally, I’d be willing to at least explore the idea, and maybe have someone draw a few sample maps, to give a picture of what this might look like. Honestly, I think we ought to consider the same for the Legislature, where individual districts have grown in population quite a lot in recent years. This is especially true for Senate districts, which used to be smaller than Congressional districts but are now larger and will get more so in 2021 when Texas is given additional seats in Congress. It’ll never happen of course, but that doesn’t mean we should never think about it.

Some flood mitigation funds are coming

Good.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has awarded Houston its first grant aimed at mitigating flooding since Hurricane Harvey hit nearly two years ago, laying the groundwork for new gates on the Lake Houston dam and detention basins in Inwood Forest.

Both projects have estimated price tags of about $47 million, with $35 million coming from the federal government. The state, through legislation passed during the recent session, will cover about $9 million for each, with the city paying the rest.

The announcement drew swift praise from local and federal officials, who had been awaiting the money since Houston applied last year.

“This is a breakthrough moment for the City and one we have been waiting for very patiently,” Mayor Sylvester Turner said in a statement. “Houston has bounced back from Harvey, but we need the federal government as a full partner as we work to prevent flooding from the next storms that will surely come.”

[…]

The Lake Houston project will add 10 gates to the dam, allowing the city to release larger amounts of water ahead of heavy rains. In a news release, Turner’s office said the project would protect about 35,000 residents and 5,000 structures.

Meanwhile, the Inwood basin project is a joint venture between the city and Harris County, who are aiming to build 12 detention basins on a defunct golf course in northwest Houston. The basins will be able to hold about 1,200 acre-feet of water, which equals roughly 592 Olympic-size swimming pools, or enough water to fill the Astrodome, Turner’s office said.

Here’s the Mayor’s press release, which has more details. The projects are slated to be done by 2022. I don’t have anything to add to this, I’m just glad it’s happening.

Previous interviews with current candidates

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

Mayor:

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

Council:

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

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

Controller:

Chris Brown – City Controller (2015)

HISD:

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

HCC:

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

Mediation fails again

Not really a surprise.

A third round of mediation between Mayor Sylvester Turner and the Houston firefighters union concluded in an apparent impasse Thursday afternoon, ending another attempt to resolve the long-running contract dispute and sending a lawsuit over the matter back to a state appellate court.

The mediation session, ordered by Texas’ 14th Court of Appeals, ended around 2 p.m. at the office of the Baker Botts law firm. After leaving the meeting, Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association President Marty Lancton said city officials “walked” and “absolutely decided they were not going to continue” the session.

“It was crystal clear to myself and to our team that this mayor was not interested in resolving this,” Lancton said. “This is a game of politics by this mayor trying to get past the election.”

See here for the background. This I think sums up the situation well:

The story says that the 14th Court of Appeals will likely not render a verdict until after the election. And let’s be clear, if this election was illegal as the lower court ruled, then there really isn’t much basis for mediation. The city’s position can and should be that any negotiations should be done in the context of the normal collective bargaining process, as the firefighters have been operating without a new agreement for a couple of years now. The firefighters have a good argument that some form of pay parity should be the goal of those negotiations, since the people did vote in favor of Prop B. Unless the 14th Court eventually decides that the lower court ruling was wrong, I’m honestly not sure what else there is to talk about at this point.

UPDATE: Here’s the longer version of the Chron story.