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Election 2005

SEIU fallout

Both Kristin Mack and Houtopia write about the City Council At Large #2 race and its future implications. Says Houtopia:

We will likely never know why SEIU chose to invest so heavily in one candidate in one race, so we can only speculate. We suspect it had less to do with the individual personalities in the race than with making a statement about its ability to influence local elections here. SEIU likely didn’t expect Aiyer to survive the first round, and was gearing up to take on Poli Acosta or another of the Republicans. That he did may have been too bad as far as SEIU was concerned, but of little consequence.

In the At-Large #2 race, SEIU had an opportunity to back an underfunded candidate for an open seat and make the difference, and that’s exactly what it did. Makes for good bragging to donors and sends a message that, local roots or no roots, SEIU is here now and to be taken seriously.

Both note that losing candidate Jay Aiyer filed an ethics complaint against Lovell and SEIU for these expenditures, claiming that it wasn’t coordinated. I rather doubt much will come of that, for I don’t think the city’s enforcement of campaign regulations is all that much more robust that the Texas Ethics Commission’s, but we’ll know more soon.

I do have a suggestion for SEIU in the event they are cleared in this matter. You may have heard that there’s going to be a trial in the coming months over allegations of improper use of corporate campaign contributions from the 2002 state legislative races. One of the arguments being advanced by the defense is that things like expenses for fundraising and polling fall under the allowed “administrative overhead” exception for corporate cash. The same law that governs how corporate cash can be spent also covers union money. Perhaps if the defense prevails in these cases, the SEIU might like to study what the Texas Association of Business did during that election cycle, and see how it can best emulate it. It wouldn’t take much more than the $250K it spent this year to have an effect statewide as well. Just a thought.

Runoff results

It was Ana Hernandez over Laura Salinas in HD143, Sue Lovell over Jay Aiyer in the only close vote in At Large #2, Anne Clutterbuck over George Hittner in District C, Jarvis Johnson (the only runoff candidate to win after coming in second in November) over Felicia Galloway-Hall in District B, Natasha Kamrani over Anne Flores Santiago in HISD1, and Larry Marshall over Daisy Maura in HISD9. Citywide turnout was less than five percent, with only the District C race approaching 10%.

Congratulations to all the winners. I admit to being mildly surprised by Lovell’s win, but she had a plan and she executed it well. At the start of the race, I didn’t think Kamrani had much of a chance, but the more I learned about that race the better I thought of her odds.

I don’t think we’ve heard the last of most of the candidates who did not win. I’d go so far as to say that Aiyer ought to be considered a frontrunner for one of the two At Large seats that will come open in 2007. Both of the new At Large members this year failed in their first attempt, so there’s no reason for Aiyer to be discouraged. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Hittner take a shot at one of those seats, either. Laura Salinas said this isn’t her last race, and I think Galloway-Hall will also be back.

Greg has some thoughts on At Large #2 and District C. There’s not much time to recover from these races before the 2006 season is upon us, so take a breath and let’s get ready. Next year is going to be a hot one.

Tomorrow’s the day

Regular voting for the runoff elections will be tomorrow from 7 AM to 7 PM. If you plan on doing your civic duty then, here’s one last roundup of news stories on the races for City Council, HD143, and HISD. The rest is up to you.

Statements by Clutterbuck and Hittner

Also in the Examiner are statements by Anne Clutterbuck and George Hittner for those of you who still haven’t made up your minds in that runoff. You can also catch them tonight on Texas Politics – The Real Deal, with David Jones and Gary Polland, 6:30-7:30 p.m. – Warner Cable Channel 17. The call-in number is 713-807-1794 if you want to ask them a question. Don’t let it be said that you went into the booth on Saturday uninformed about your choice. (Thanks to Carl Whitmarsh for the TV info.)

Finally, the Houston GLBT Political Caucus has issued a statement criticizing the recent mailers sent out on Hittner’s behalf by the Conservative Republicans of Harris County and Steve Hotze. Click the More link to read what they said.


Early voting ends at 7 PM today

Today is the last day for early voting in the city of Houston for the runoff elections. Polls are open until 7 PM. After that, you have to vote in your home precinct on Saturday. As a reminder, here are the early voting locations. Turnout will be low, so that means short-to-nonexistent lines and a proportionally bigger impact with your vote. What more could you want? Go vote, it’s good for you.

Lonely times at the early voting locations

To the surprise of no one, business has been slow at the early voting locations so far.

Turnout for Saturday’s six runoff elections probably will be about 10 percent of registered voters, election officials say.

Reasons include holiday distractions, low voter interest in the races and the fact that all but one of the contests are limited to specific districts within Harris County.

Early voting started Wednesday and runs through Tuesday.

On the first day, only 918 people showed up at the polls. First-day voting was much heavier in the 2001 and 2003 runoffs, which decided races for Houston mayor.

“Turnout is going to be very light,” said David Beirne, a spokesman for Harris County Clerk Beverly Kaufman, the county’s chief elections official.

“There’s not a mayor’s race or proposition driving people to vote,” he said. “By the runoff, people think the thing is already decided or their candidate is no longer in it, so they decide to stay home.”


It was a “slow, slow” day at the Metropolitan Multi-Service Center, traditionally one of the most popular early voting locations, when voting began there Wednesday, said site supervisor Lee Parsley.

Only 116 people showed up, and the longest line they had all day was two people deep, Parsley said.

“They don’t have much to vote for,” Parsley said. “They come in fast, and they leave fast. We’re happy to get anyone to come in. It’s a low-key, runoff race.”

We did our civic duty at the MMSC this afternoon around 4 PM. No waiting in line, and only two campaigns (Aiyer and Hittner) had volunteers present in the parking lot. Tomorrow and Tuesday are your last chances until the general on Saturday. As a reminder, here are the locations and hours.

As long as there’s not much news to discuss for the runoff, here’s an essay question to ponder: Why don’t we extend the early-voting concept of “voting centers” to Election Day itself, as they’re thinking about doing in Denver? The fact that we have them for early voting is proof that we don’t need a polling place in every precinct, though of course we’d need more voting centers on Election Day itself than we have during early voting, especially when turnout is expected to be heavy. I realize there are reasons practical and sentimental to keep many traditional neighborhood polling places, but I submit that voting centers make it harder to practice certain types of voter intimidation (since you can’t say with nearly as much certainty who’s showing up at a given center) and also eliminates challenging votes for being cast in the wrong precinct (as we saw in the Heflin/Vo challenge). I believe that these two benefits would outweigh those objections. But, since it’s an essay question, what do you think?

As we approach the wire in the runoffs

Three more days of early voting. One week till the runoff. We’ll all need the break that Christmas will provide.

Couple things happening beneath the radar that you ought to know about. First, a little while back the question of whom Democrats ought to support in the City Council District C runoff was asked. That question has been pretty definitively answered, and the answer is Anne Clutterbuck, who has picked up endorsements from the Houston GLBT Political Caucus and general election opponent Mark Lee. Perhaps realizing this, George Hittner has taken a turn to the right in his campaign. Greg has a copy of Hittner’s latest mailer, apparently sent by uberconservative Steven Hotze. Take a look if you’re in District C and still undecided.

Meanwhile, over in City Council At Large #2, there’s been a lot of heat coming from the Lovell camp over some inflammatory anti-gay rhetoric from Houston talk radio host Edd Hendee, which he said while also endorsing Jay Aiyer. Lovell and the Houston GLBT Political Caucus has demanded that Aiyer disavow Hendee:

We call on Jay Aiyer and his supporters to repudiate publicly the vile remarks made Tuesday by radio host Edd Hendee and Mr. Hendee’s endorsement, which Mr. Aiyer sought. Mr. Hendee’s statements attacking families and children, and implying that adopted children have an inferior status in the life of a family, are wrong, morally offensive, and have absolutely no place in what should be a civilized and informative campaign for public office. His attack on Sue Lovell’s children and family, and the families of her supporters, are particularly mean and vicious and he should be told loudly and by all that this is unacceptable.

Mr. Aiyer and his supporters should reject publicly Mr. Hendee’s endorsement and send a message that hate has no place in Houston. As Mayor Bill White said at his inauguration, “We’re all in this together and that’s the way we ought to approach solving the problems of the City of Houston.”

Aiyer responded as follows:

All too often in politics today, the low road is the one most traveled. In May, I signed the Texas Code of Fair Campaign Practices, partially in response to disturbing racially bigoted comments coming from Ms. Lovell’s campaign. In the spirit of having a rigorous contest on the substantive issues of importance to Houstonians, I called on the other candidates in the race to join me in signing the pledge. No one else signed.

Hate has no place in Houston. Any such prejudicial comments, be they based on sexual orientation, ethnicity, or any other “lowest common denominator” divisive issue are wrong and have no place in public discourse. I will always oppose discrimination in all its forms, and reject personal attacks against candidates or their family members.

I take Mayor White’s call to never let people divide Houston very seriously. That is why I have worked hard to run an inclusive, non-partisan campaign that reaches out to Houstonians from all walks of life. There is far too much work to be done continuing to move our city forward to take the low road.

That wasn’t enough for Lovell:

I and my supporters renew our call on Jay Aiyer to repudiate the endorsement and vicious statements of Edd Hendee. Mr. Aiyer to this date has not done so.

I repudiated and rejected the unsought endorsement and ugly statements of James Galvan, immediately and without reservation. I did not want that kind of sentiment associated with my campaign.

Mr. Aiyer sought Mr. Hendee’s endorsement, according to Mr. Hendee. Mr. Aiyer should now reject that endorsement and prove to Houstonians that he will stand up to bigotry and hatred.

Greg has the transcript and more than a few choice words for Lovell, whom he accuses of hypocrisy in the whole affair. A site called Sepia Mutiny notes that one of Lovell’s senior campaign advisers has been publicly calling Jay a “dot-headed terrorist”. There’s more back-and-forth about it there, so go see for yourself. Is it just me, or does anyone else think this is the sort of thing that might, I don’t know, attract some media coverage?

Finally, as Stace notes, there have been some ugly things said in the HISD1 runoff as well. From Friday’s story, which was about a re-airing of the ethics charges against Anne Flores Santiago from her mother’s primary challenge to State Sen. Mario Gallegos last year:

At one point, Santiago’s aunt, 71-year-old Dolores Torres, shouted that people should vote for her niece because, “She’s Hispanic and grew up in the community. She’s not Iranian.”

Santiago’s opponent was born in Ohio to an Iranian-born father and a mother from Kentucky. She came to Houston in 1990 as a Teach for America corps member assigned to teach Spanish-speaking middle school students. Kamrani is now a lawyer, married to Chris Barbic, founder of YES College Preparatory Charter School.

“Foreigners are coming in not knowing the community,” Torres said. “Anne grew up here.”

Like I said, ugly things. But the end is in sight. If any of this makes you depressed and less likely to haul yourself to a polling place, please shake it off. The need to participate doesn’t change because of regrettable words. If anything, and however much I’m tired of the negativity, I’m more determined to cast my votes now.

Time for the attack mailers

Got three pieces of mail yesterday relating to the upcoming runoff elections. Two were positive: one from Jay Aiyer, one from Natasha Kamrani. The third was a straight-on attack piece, saying that Kamrani did not vote in several recent elections, up through 2003. If you looked real hard, you could see the tiny print, which was nearly the same color as the background it was on, that identified it as being paid for by the Anne Flores Santiago campaign. That was the only place Santiago’s name appeared.

Nothing unseemly about this – unlike the anti-Adrian Garcia pieces from 2003, this one did say who sent it, and it contained simple enough claims. Not having a good voting record is not the most attractive trait one could want in a candidate for public office, but it’s hardly the least attractive one, either. It’s not going to change my vote, and more to the point it’s not going to change my level of interest in voting. That’s all that this piece, which I presume was also sent to most of my Heights neighbors, is supposed to do, since for all any casual reader would know Kamrani is the only candidate running. Runoffs are about turnout, and the goal here is to reduce it in Kamrani’s main stronghold. The main thing to take away from this is that now we all know who the frontrunner is.

Early voting begins today for Houston runoff elections

Early voting begins today for the City of Houston runoff elections, which will be held on Saturday, December 10. If you live in the City of Houston, you have a vote to cast, for the City Council At Large #2 race between Jay Aiyer and Sue Lovell. You may have one or two other choices to make, depending on if you live in City Council Districts B or C, HISD trustee districts 1 or 9, or HD143.

Locations and times for early voting are as follows:


7 a.m.-7 p.m. today-Saturday
1-6 p.m. Sunday
7 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Tuesday


Inside Loop 610

Downtown: Anderson-Clayton Building, Annex 44, 1310 Prairie, 16th floor
Moody Park area: Moody Park Recreation Center, 3725 Fulton
Kashmere area: Kashmere Multi-Service Center, 4802 Lockwood
Southeast Houston: HCCS Southeast College, 2524 Garland at Rustic.
Palm Center: Justice of the peace-constable entry, 5300 Griggs
Astrodome area: Fiesta Mart, 8130 Kirby
Neartown: Metropolitan Multi-Service Center, 1475 W. Gray

Outside Loop 610

N ortheast Houston: BeBe Tabernacle Methodist Church, 7210 Langley
Galena Park: Galena Park Branch Library, 1500 Keene, Galena Park
Hobby area: I.B.E.W. Hall #66, 4345 Allen Genoa
Sunnyside: Multi-Service Center, 4605 Wilmington
South Houston area: Power Center, 12401 S. Post Oak
Southwest Houston: Bayland Park Community Center, 6400 Bissonnet near Hillcroft
Near West Side: Tracy Gee Community Center, 3599 Westcenter
Spring Branch: Harris County Courthouse Annex No. 35, 1721 Pech, second floor
Acres Homes: Multi-Service Center, 6719 W. Montgomery, second floor

Outside Beltway 8

Kingwood: Fire Station 102, 4102 Lake Houston
Clear Lake: Freeman Branch Library, 16616 Diana, Clear Lake
Alief: Alief Regional Library, 7979 South Kirkwood
West Houston: VN Teamwork, 11210 Bellaire, Suite 118
Far West Houston: Courtyard by Marriott, 12401 Katy Freeway at Dairy Ashford

Fort Bend County

22. Rosenberg Annex, 4520 Reading, Rosenberg
23. Chasewood Clubhouse, 7622 Chasewood, Missouri City

Note that early voting only runs through Tuesday, December 6, so don’t dawdle. As with all runoffs, this will be a low-turnout event, so your vote really matters. Don’t miss the opportunity to have an effect.

Katy ISD kerfuffle: Not resolved

Apparently, the Texas Ethics Commission’s clearing of two Katy ISD officials of charges that they used district computers to urge employees to vote for incumbents in a school board election is not the end of the story, for the Fort Bend County DA has taken action by referring new complaints to the TEC.

Fort Bend County District Attorney John Healey filed complaints involving 42 Katy Independent School District employees who may have violated election laws by using district computers to send campaign messages via e-mail.

The complaints, which allege potential violations of civil law, were filed with the Texas Ethics Commission on Wednesday, Healey said.

The action comes a week after the commission dismissed complaints against two high-ranking Katy ISD officials accused of using district computers to urge employees to vote for incumbents in a school board election. All three were re-elected in the May 7 election.

Texas law prohibits using district resources to distribute political advertising.

However, Healey said 77 e-mails from 42 other Katy ISD employees might have violated the election code and are being forwarded to the commission for further investigation. Healey didn’t reveal the names.

Question: Why didn’t the TEC’s investigation include these alleged violations of electoral law? (Answer: Because the TEC is a toothless and impotent body that couldn’t investigate allegations of low prices at Wal-Mart if its life depended on it.)

The probe started in May when Healey’s office received information that Katy ISD employees sent campaign messages on district computers. The investigation was handled by the Texas Rangers.

Healey said that after he reviewed the results of the investigation he did not think criminal sanctions were warranted.

Instead, Healey recommended district employees and administrators be trained on election law.

Question: As Bob Dunn notes, Healy decided months ago that the allegations did not rise to criminality. So what was he doing with this? Certainly he has an obligation to refer evidence of wrongdoing to the appropriate body, but May was a long time ago. Did it really take six months to sort it all out? Maybe Healy knows that the TEC doesn’t look past whatever it’s given up front, and he wanted to be as thorough as possible. I’m just a little confused is all.

Meanwhile, in other Fort Bend electoral news, the Department of Justice is coming to town to clarify the county’s efforts to provide non-English-speaking citizens with an equal opportunity to vote. Bob has been following this story from the beginning, so to catch up on things go here, here, and here.

Not the kind of endorsement one wants

Remember how, when I made my endorsements for the 2005 elections, I advised skipping over City Council At Large #3 because neither incumbent Shelley Sekula Somethingorother nor challenger James Partsch-Galvan was worth a vote? Well, Galvan’s recent “endorsement” of Sue Lovell in the At Large #2 runoff illustrates better than I could ever explain why he didn’t even merit a protest vote. Here’s the full text of his email, via Carl Whitmarsh’s list, with all the naughty words replaced by dog breed names to maintain my PG rating:

No wonder the City of Houston is all poodled up! No wonder The Houston Astros did not even win one World Series Game!

Houston is the most Corrupt City in the USA! The Houston Chronicle Editorial Board is made up of nothing but White Old Corrupt Men with a few Nasty Jack Russell Terriers & a couple of House Norbottenspets who will go along!

This new makeup of Houston City Council is the most Corrupt Set of Political Pyrenean Mastiffs that Houston has ever had! Houston is not only the most Corrupt City in the USA, but also the most Racist City in the USA! Schnauzer the Houston Chronicle! Vizsla Mayor Bill White! Xoloitzcuintli Jay Aiyer!

Please galvanize and vote for Sue Lovell! Yorkipoo Jay Aiyer! I also encourage everyone to help clean up Houston and go around and remove all Jay Aiyer Political Signs! I have already removed some myself and burned them!

What a great guy, huh? Perhaps DA Chuck Rosenthal might be interested in Galvan’s admission and exhortation of sign stealing, which last I checked was a crime.

Lovell, to her credit, swiftly disavowed Galvan’s words:

We did not ask for this endorsement from Mr. Galvan nor will we accept it. The tone and language are vile and offensive and certainly not in keeping with our campaign which has brought together a broad cross segment of Houstonians to work for our city. We find Mr. Galvan’s words despicable and hateful. Our campaign is not going to be highjacked and used as vehicle for this type of contemptible message. Mr. Galvan should apologize to everyone who received this loathsome e-mail.

With any luck, this is the last we’ll hear from this guy, but just in case, remember his name so that if you ever see it on another ballot, you’ll know to never vote for him under any circumstance.

Endorsement watch: Runoff recommendations

Unlike the November election, the Chron wastes no time in handing out endorsements for the December 10 runoffs. In half of the races, they get to stick with the person they touted originally: Jay Aiyer in City Council At Large #2, Ana Hernandez in HD143, and Daisy Maura in HISD9. In the others, their first pick didn’t make it this far, so they made new choices: Jarvis Johnson in City Council District B, Anne Clutterbuck in District C, and Natasha Kamrani in HISD1. I hope they run a reminder of these recommendations when voting actually starts.

PDiddie has a request for Hittner and Clutterbuck supporters in District C: “All the good folks who voted for Mark Lee and Herman Litt might want to know who to vote for on December 10th. Would someone like to give them a reason to?” If you thought November was a lot turnout election, you ain’t seen nothing yet. If you have a stake in who wins that race, it should be worth it to you to give your person a plug to anyone who’s listening, because every vote really will matter. Leave a comment there or here for your preferred contender.

Early voting runs from November 30 to December 6. Don’t miss out.

Aiyer files ethics complaint against Lovell

In today’s column on the unpredictability of local runoff races, Kristin Mack notes a storm brewing in the Council At Large #2 race, now between Jay Aiyer and Sue Lovell:

The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) contributed $10,000 to Lovell’s campaign and sent three mailings on her behalf. Aiyer said the mailings and automated phone calls by SEIU violate a city ordinance prohibiting “coordinated campaign expenditures” — direct work on behalf of a candidate by an organization whose expenditures aren’t listed on the candidate’s campaign finance reports.

Lovell’s campaign didn’t send any direct mail and she said it was not expecting SEIU to send mailings on her behalf.

“We were just as surprised as anyone else,” she said. “They wrote a check for $10,000 and that was the last communication we had.”

SEIU, the nation’s second-largest union, is battling the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees to organize city workers. Aiyer’s campaign says SEIU’s effort fits its national pattern of trying to gain a foothold in local government.

“No one entity should be able to influence the outcome of a race like that,” Aiyer said. “They effectively were trying to buy a council seat. It allowed her to use her resources in other places.”

Today, Aiyer filed an ethics complaint against Lovell, stating that the mailers SEIU did on her behalf constitute a violation of Section 18.38 (a) of the Houston City Code of Ordinances. Greg fills in some details. Don’t really have much to add to that except to say that it’s gonna get ugly.

Well, okay, there is one thing. As someone who’s voted in every Democratic primary race – including runoffs! – since, oh, I don’t remember exactly, 1992 or so, what do I have to do to get on the mailing list for stuff like that? I got at least two mailers, not to mention two robocalls, from Poli Acosta, and nada from Sue (or Jay, for that matter). Just curious.

Katy ISD kerfuffle resolved for now

Back in May, there were complaints raised about improper politicking in Katy’s ISD elections. Today, the Texas Ethics Commission cleared the accused of wrongdoing, but that may not be the end of it.

Fred Hink, a 2004 school board candidate, filed the complaints against Ronald Jetton, executive director for campus administrative support, and Janine Phillips, executive director for elementary education, accusing them of violating the election code. The code prohibits using district resources to distribute political advertising.


The commission declined to comment on its decision, but district spokeswoman Kris Taylor said Jetton and Phillips had been “cleared.”

Hink said he received confirmation from the commission that the e-mail messages did not show direct endorsement of individual candidates.

Jetton wrote in an April 20 memo to secondary principals, “Once again we find ourselves with several people running against our present board members. … If the votes in some races get divided between several people it would be easy for someone we might not prefer to get elected.”

In e-mail responding to a question about candidates opposing incumbents Eric Duhon and Judith Snyder, Phillips wrote: “We currently have a very positive, productive and supportive board.”

Neither Jetton nor Phillips returned calls for comment.

Hink thinks the actions by certain administration officials and other employees during the school board campaign exposed a serious breach of public trust.

“Taxpayers should understand that it is apparent that rampant campaigning by KISD employees should be considered highly unethical at best and that the powers that be in KISD are very serious about keeping this current board intact,” Hink said. “That reeks of the worst kind of slime, in my opinion.”

All three incumbents were re-elected in the May 7 election.

The Fort Bend DA is expected to file criminal complaints regarding this matter, so it’s not over yet. I’m not sure what he could find that the TEC would not have considered actionable, but then at least he’s likely to do some actual investigation, something for which the TEC is renowned for not doing. So stay tuned.

The runoffs

The runoff elections for the City of Houston municipal races that went into overtime will be Saturday, December 10, with early voting from November 30 to December 6 (all info courtesy of a phone call to the Harris County Clerk’s office). There will be six races on the ballot, though the only one that everyone will see will be City Council At Large #2 – the others are Council Districts B and C, both HISD races in Position 1 and Position 9, and HD143.

Today’s Chron covers the latter three races. For the HISD contenders, it’s all about making sure the people who voted for you once get out and do it again.

Incumbent Houston Independent School District Trustee Larry Marshall is trying to fend off a challenge for his District 9 seat from retired Sterling High School Principal Daisy Maura, who finished a strong second with 43 percent of the Nov. 8 vote to Marshall’s 49 percent.


Maura scored slightly more Election Day votes than Marshall, who built a strong lead in absentee and early voting.

Marshall’s $36,000 campaign-finance report shows he spent $10,000 mailing absentee ballots and paying workers to call potential voters. Maura spent $10,000 on her campaign.

Maura drew the bulk of her support from the neighborhoods surrounding the two high schools where she has worked — Worthing and Sterling.

Maura said she has bought 500 more yard signs (she already had 1,000) and plans to send mailers to the 12,000 people who voted Nov. 8.

“If we could get those 12,000 back to the polls, that’s going to be a chore,” she said.

The HISD race that I’ll see on my ballot is in Position 1.

The race for an open District 1 seat pits lawyer and former teacher Natasha Kamrani against Anne Flores Santiago, owner of an ambulance service.


For Kamrani, the leading vote-getter in last week’s general election, a Dec. 10 victory hinges on the Heights and Garden Oaks neighborhoods. High voter turnout in those communities gave Kamrani 39 percent of the vote Nov. 8.

A former Teach for America bilingual classroom teacher, Kamrani held a major financial advantage over Santiago because she still had more than $15,000 in unspent campaign funds as of Oct. 31.

Santiago had about $1,500 at the same point.

Santiago won twice as many precincts on Election Day as Kamrani, but turnout in those mostly Hispanic neighborhoods was much lower, giving her 31 percent of the overall vote and just enough to make the runoff.

She is also courting Hispanic voters who helped third-place finisher Richard Cantú finish within 63 votes of Santiago.

“We’re going to reach out to all voters in the Hispanic community and everywhere else in the Heights and Garden Oaks area,” said Jorge Mendoza, Santiago’s campaign manager.

It’s easy to see where Kamrani’s support runs the deepest – just drive through the Heights and count the “One Smart Mommy” signs. In theory, with the larger initial tally and the clearly motivated base, she should be in a strong position to win next month. There is another dynamic at work here, which is alluded to in this story but best summarized by Marc Campos:

Here’s an interesting one. Local Latino electeds supported Richard Cantu for HISD School Board. Cantu missed the runoff. The local Latino electeds don’t like the only Latina that did make the runoff, actually, they don’t like her momma. Do the local Latino electeds support the non-Latina that led in the first go around? I love watching folks squirm.

Haven’t heard anything on that score, but if Kamrani gets an endorsement from Cantu or his elected supporters, it’s all over. If Flores gets it, she moves into the driver’s seat but still has work to do. I’ll keep my ear to the ground and let you know if I hear anything.

Over in HD143, there’s no question about who’s endorsing whom: All of the candidates who did not make the cut are siding with Laura Salinas over Ana Hernandez, who led the vote tally on Election Day.

At her news conference, the former candidates endorsing her characterized Salinas as a grass-roots candidate who would be an independent voice in the Texas House.

“Laura is a strong individual who will be able to make a difference in Austin,” said civil attorney Rick Molina, who was joined by the three other eliminated candidates — corrections officer Charles George, construction- firm owner Dorothy Olmos and lawyer Al Flores.

All six ran as Democrats in the special, nonpartisan election Nov. 8.

The race in the east Houston and Harris County district has stirred up old rivalries among long-standing factions in the Hispanic political community and also has created some realignments. Hernandez is supported by state Sen. Mario Gallegos and his political allies. Salinas is supported by her aunt and uncle, former state Reps. Diana Davila and Roman Martinez, and their allies.

Gallegos and Martinez have been foes since they squared off in an acrimonious 1994 Democratic primary battle to represent Senate District 6 and become Harris County’s only Hispanic senator. Gallegos won.

Cap Inside ran a piece on this yesterday:

The four candidates who were eliminated from the competition last week have grumbled that Hernandez is an opportunist who hadn’t been living in the district. They feel that Hernandez got an unfair jump on the competition by launching her campaign almost immediately after Moreno’s death – and they’ve complained that Hernandez and her supporters have tried to steamroll a path to the statehouse with heavy-handed tactics and threats.

The accusations, which Hernandez supporters say are overblown if not fictional, are part of the political territory in a section of the state’s largest city where Moreno and State Rep. Jessica Farrar emerged as key players in the machine run by ex-City Councilman and former legislator Ben Reyes before he went to prison on a bribery conviction on the heels of an FBI undercover sting. Hernandez, a corporate attorney for Conoco/Phillips, worked as an aide to both Moreno and Farrar, who has been a key force in the aspiring candidate’s special election campaign. Moreno had also worked for Farrar – and the two lawmakers had remained close friends.

Salinas is the niece of former State House member Diana Davila, who served six years as the representative for the district that State Rep. Rick Noriega now represents. Davila is married to her former boss, ex-House member Roman Martinez, a one-time Reyes ally until being pit in a bitter 1994 primary battle in a Senate contest that State Senator Mario Gallegos won in a runoff after trailing in the initial election.

There had been speculation shortly after Moreno’s death that Gallegos would support Salinas in the special election campaign. But he got behind the Hernandez effort instead.

The residency issue is one that the Salinas campaign, espcially via Marc Campos, has pushed since she entered the race. It’s interesting to see the others pick up on it, though, since Campos always insisted that Salinas was the only candidate who met the requirement. I guess whatever they feel about Hernandez is stronger than whatever they felt about being lumped with her on that issue.

On a side note, there is a connection between HISD1 and HD143, in that Anne Flores Santiago’s “momma” is Yolanda Navarro Flores, who unsuccessfully challenged Mario Gallegos in the Democratic primary for SD6 last year. Make of that what you will.

Mike Krusee loses big at home on the propositions

State Rep. Mike Krusee was a big proponent of Propositions 1, 3, and 9, all three of which he authored or sponsored. So what does it mean then when one learns that all three were rejected by Williamson County, his home turf?

STATE AMENDMENT NO. 1 FOR . . . . . . . . . . . . 21,313 47.24 AGAINST . . . . . . . . . . . 23,804 52.76 STATE AMENDMENT NO. 3 FOR . . . . . . . . . . . . 20,071 46.68 AGAINST . . . . . . . . . . . 22,922 53.32 STATE AMENDMENT NO. 9 FOR . . . . . . . . . . . . 18,050 42.37 AGAINST . . . . . . . . . . . 24,552 57.63

Campaign issue, anyone? Krusee’s in a fairly safe seat, but if he’s not a little bit worried about what the voters thought of the issues he cared about and campaigned for, he ought to be.

Meanwhile, via email from Sal Costello, it seems that the true believers in toll roads are not very happy about what happened to Prop 9 on Tuesday.

[I]n Texas the tollers are behaving arrogantly and with extraordinary political ineptitude.

They are over-reaching. Why six year terms for toll authorities? Four year terms would provide some insulation from sudden political change while constituting a more normal term of public office.

There’s something sleazy too in that term “regional mobility authority”? It’s a toll authority. Why run away from that? Only people without the courage of their convictions or who are too tongue tied to explain themselves resort to silly euphemisms. Does it fool anyone anyway?

Political support in TX has also been sapped by a bewilderingly unprincipled and unexplained intermixing of funding of projects by TxDOT. Wherever they go there’s a furore because no one can figure out who’s paying for what.

They talk privatization but so far it is all politics as usual.

Certainly the anti-toll groups there display a mean-spirited nastiness and are unreasonable about the alternatives, but TxDOT’s promiscuous approach to raising funds and their promotion of projects without even a semblance of study has been the anti-toll groups’ major recruiter.

Is it mean-spirited nastiness of me to say “Sweet”? I’ll risk it. Given how little attention was paid to Prop 9, and how seemingly innocuous it was on its face, I have to agree that it was a big deal that it lost.

Election 2005: National results

Lots of good news for Democrats around the country. Both governorships that were up for grabs remained in Democratic hands, as Jon Corzine won easily in New Jersey and Tim Kaine completed his comeback win in Virginia. (Note to Rick Casey: Kaine was once the Mayor of Richmond. Just a data point for you there.) Every last one of Arnold Schwarzeneggar’s ballot initiatives failed, meaning the special election he called for a vote on them was nothing but a waste of time and money. Every incumbent member of the Dover, PA school board, which is currently involved in a lawsuit over its insistence on teaching “intelligent design”, was booted out of office. And perhaps the sweetest of them all is this:

St. Paul voters punished Mayor Randy Kelly on Tuesday for standing with President Bush a year ago, denying the Democrat a second term in Minnesota’s capital city.

Former City Council member Chris Coleman, also a Democrat, routed Kelly by a more than 2-to-1 margin in unofficial returns with most precincts reporting. Ahead of the election, independent polls showed voters were primed to fire Kelly, and most cited his 2004 endorsement of the Republican president as the reason.

No sitting St. Paul mayor had lost a campaign since 1974. Kelly had a personal election streak that spanned just as long, covering his quarter-century in the Legislature and first term as mayor.

“It may sound silly, but Kelly was for Bush and I’m not,” said retiree Audrey Guith after casting her vote for Coleman.

Not silly at all, ma’am. Not silly at all. Kos has some other results of interest. The news isn’t all good, of course – all the progressive-backed ballot initiatives in Ohio were defeated, for example – but on balance, pretty darned good.

Election 2005: Statewide results

Seven of the nine ballot propositions were ratified yesterday, with Props 5 and 9 going down and the others all winning, most easily. I’m actually a little surprised at Prop 5’s defeat. It was a rare amendment that had some merit to it, and it was the only one besides Prop 2 for which I saw any advertising – there were several TV ads promoting it in recent days. Don’t know who had it in for it, but they carried the day.

And of course, gay marriage is now officially Double Secret Illegal in the state of Texas. I look forward to the immediate and sustained drop in the divorce rate that this heroic and courageous effort to strengthen and protect traditional marriage will undoubtedly bring.

Election 2005: Houston results

Let’s take a look at what happened yesterday, starting with the Houston elections. Greg has a slightly early but essentially accurate picture of the city elections, while final results for Harris County can be found here. (Yes, the layout of that page sucks. Send your complaints to Beverly Kaufman.) There’s a wee bit of Houston in Fort Bend County so the final official tally will be a little off from that, but it’s not important right now.

Anyway, Mayor White cracked the 90% mark, which makes my projection of 82% look hopelessly pessimistic now. I’m fascinated that the non-White votes were not more or less evenly distributed among his token opponents. Is Gladys House’s 4.18%, nearly double that of her next closest rival, a testament to something? You could probably wring a master’s thesis out of that one.

All ten City Council incumbents were easily reelected, with District F’s MJ Khan getting the lowest percentage at 69.31%. District I’s Carol Alvarado, the subject of some controversy over the status of her UH graduation, was the big winner with over 79% of the tally. That’s got to be sweet for her.

Three of the four open seats will head to runoffs. Peter Brown got a slight majority in At Large #1 to win there outright. In At Large #2, it’ll be Sue Lovell versus Jay Aiyer, while Felicia Galloway-Hall and Jarvis Johnson will battle in District B, and Anne Clutterbuck and George Hittner survived the crowded field in District C. I have no opinion on the two district seats, but I’ll note with some pleasure that two strong Democratic candidates combined for over 58% of the vote in At Large #2. I see that runoff having some parallels to the San Antonio mayoral runoff from June, in that supporters of the losing candidates will likely have a strong preference for one of the contenders. As Phil Hardberger overcame Julian Castro’s lead with big support from Carroll Schubert’s voters, I see Jay Aiyer being in a good position to pick up those who favored Poli Acosta and John Elford. If those folks stay home, I think Lovell wins; if not, I think Aiyer wins. Either way, it should make for an interesting dynamic.

The race for HD143 will also go to a runoff as Ana Hernandez and Laura Salinas led the pack. The one contested HCC Board of Trustees election was won easily by Richard Schecter.

Finally, both HISD races will have runoffs. Incumbent Larry Marshall will go against challenger Daisy Maura in HISD9, while Natasha Kamrani got nearly 40% of the vote to lead in HISD1. She’ll go against Anne Flores Santiago, who nipped Richard Cantu by 63 votes for second place.

I’ll have more to say about the runoff races, especially the two in which I’ll be casting a vote, later. For now, congratulations to all the winners.

UPDATE: Here are the final tallies.

Totally unnecessary reminder to vote (I hope)

We all know what today is, right? And we all know where to go and what to do, right? (Assuming we haven’t done it already, that is.) So therefore there’s no need for me to tell you that you can find your precinct name and number for most major metro areas in Texas by going to Local Voter, or that you can find your polling place in Harris County by going here. And there’s no need to reiterate what my recommendations are. In fact, there’s no need for this post at all. So we’d better move on, then.

Did I mention that tomorrow was Election Day?

So far this afternoon, we’ve received four robocalls advocating a vote this way or that. The elections may not be on the airwaves for the most part, but that doesn’t mean they’re not out there. I have a feeling we’ll be letting Call Notes do the work this evening. How are things in your household?

UPDATE: Five calls as of 8:15 PM.

Election Day approacheth

So we come to the end of another election season, with the usual grassroots campaigning going on over the weekend. Though there’s always hope, at least until the early returns are announced, pretty much everyone expects the loathsome Prop 2 to pass. I have a question for those of you who support this particular piece of legislation: Is there a specific effect you hope will result from its passage? For example, since Prop 2 is being touted in some corners as being needed to “strengthen” and “protect” marriage, are you hoping that its passage will lead to a decline in the divorce rate? If not that, then are there any other quantifiable outcomes we should look for? And if there aren’t – if there are no behaviors which we should expect this legislation to alter in any measurable way – then please tell me what the point was. Besides this, I mean.

For those of you who have not yet voted, please remember that just because ballot propositions are technically non-partisan, that doesn’t mean that it’s legal for anyone, even an election judge, to hand you a pamphlet about one or all of them, even if that pamphlet is billed as being informational. This is called electioneering, and it’s illegal within 100 feet of a polling place, which is why you generally only ever see this or that candidates’ supporters outside in the parking lot or on the sidewalk. If this happens to you, complain about it until someone listens.

Finally, there are a lot of other elections going on around the country. Here’s a brief guide to what else is happening tomorrow.

Annise Parker

City Controller Annise Parker is running unopposed for reelection, so the profile on that race didn’t appear till today and really isn’t about her campaign anyway.

Parker, a lesbian who became Houston’s first openly gay elected official when she won an at-large City Council seat in 1997, is working against Proposition 2, which would put a ban on same-sex marriage into the state constitution.

“I’ve never had so much free time during an election season,” she said, noting that she had expected opponents might try to ride anti-gay votes drawn to the polls by the proposed constitutional amendment.

“With Proposition 2 on the ballot, I thought it would be a repeat of 2001, where fringe candidates used the opportunity to make personal attacks,” she said.

That year, when she won her third term on the council, a measure prohibiting the city from offering benefits to city employees’ unmarried domestic partners was on the ballot. It passed. Parker retained her seat.

“I am who I am, and these are the issues I care about,” she said, acknowledging that it will be almost impossible to defeat Proposition 2 statewide.

“I hope Houston defeats it and sends a message that at least here, that kind of thing doesn’t get play.”

Yes, I thought the presence of Prop 2 would attract a crank to oppose her as well, but thankfully it didn’t. The actual battle over Prop 2 is ugly enough. We didn’t need any more of that.

Given that Parker is now in a comfortable position to end her terms without any serious negatives on her record, one wonders what’s next for her.

The controller’s office sometimes has been a political stepping-stone. Kathy Whitmire went from controller to mayor in 1982, and Sylvia Garcia left the controller’s office to become a county commissioner in 2003.

Parker, widely mentioned as a potential mayoral candidate in 2009 if White serves the six years permitted under city term limits, left the door open.

“I want to stay involved in politics and like local government,” she said. “If you start looking beyond the job you have, you don’t do a good a job.”

I think the odds are pretty good that she’ll try for the Mayor’s office in 2009. All things considered, she’s probably the frontrunner already. Personally, I’m rooting for Adrian Garcia, but Annise Parker is a close second, and I think she’d make a fine Mayor. I’ll say this – I expect the 2009 campaign to be well populated, wide open, expensive, and likely more than a little nasty. In the meantime, there will be a lot of people leaving this door open for themselves.

Ask The Mayor

Kristin Mack mentioned in Friday’s column that Bill White will have a live webcast at 12:30 PM on Election Day, November 8. Part of this webcast is intended to be interactive, with Mayor White responding to feedback from any interested participants. Details are on – you will need to register to get a direct link to the webcast. If you’ve got a question for the Mayor, here’s your chance to ask it.

CTC survey on transportation issues

Though it’s sadly a little late to affect early voting, the Citizens Transportation Coalition has put together a nice questionnaire for local candidates regarding various issues of mobility, including public transportation, toll road accountability, regional planning, and more. Check it out and see how your candidates answered (not all of them did – there are a lot of questions here). I hope the CTC tries to do something like this for the 2006 elections as well.

Where does Bill White go from here?

Kristin Mack writes about the Bill White buzz.

Mayor Bill White says he is not running for governor in 2006. Well, he doesn’t say that exactly. What he says, when asked, and it has come up lately: “I intend to be mayor for the next two years if that’s what the citizens want me to do.”

That leaves the door open, since the people who almost certainly will elect him to a second term as mayor on Tuesday also could speak in a draft-White-for-governor move.


As for the mayor seeking the Democratic nomination for governor, [White’s campaign manager Mustafa] Tameez says White is not encouraging support, although he has been asked to consider running.

“Just because people want it to be, doesn’t mean it’s going to happen,” Tameez said.

If he did decide to run in the March primary, White would not have to give up the mayor’s job, according to the city’s legal department.

Former U.S. Rep. Chris Bell, the only announced Democratic gubernatorial candidate, said he thought enough of the rumor to ask White if it was true. The mayor responded in writing.

“He said he felt like being mayor was a full-time job, and he absolutely had no plans to run,” Bell said. “I took that to be a pretty definitive answer. I don’t get the impression that he has done anything to give people the indication that he is running. I don’t think he’s trying to be clever or leave an opening so he can surprise everyone at the 11th hour. It would be contrary to the way he does things.”

First things first. The filing deadline for the 2006 primary elections is Monday, January 2, which coincidentally would also be White’s swearing-in day as a second-term Mayor. If he really were serious about challenging for the Democratic nomination for Governor, he’d better get a move on because time’s a-wasting.

While it is technically true that White could serve as Mayor while also running for Governor, in practical terms it’s nearly impossible to imagine. He’d need a travel schedule that would make Lee Brown look like a homebody. I just don’t believe he – or anyone – could manage to run both the city of Houston and a statewide campaign in Texas effectively.

Finally, much as Ed Koch discovered when he listened to the press clippings and entered the 1982 Democratic primary for Governor in New York against Mario Cuomo shortly after winning reelection as NYC Mayor by a wide margin, voters don’t often like it when a person who has pledged to them to do a job starts hunting for a bigger and better one before finishing the task at hand. I guarantee you that the fastest way to dent Bill White’s approval numbers in Houston is for him to announce that what he really wants right now is to be Governor. Not only will some of the people who just voted for him to be Mayor take that as a rebuke, but it will also bring everyone’s partisan feelings back to the surface. Obviously, if and when White decides to run for a higher office, he’ll have to remind people that though he may play well with Republicans, he really is a Democrat. There’s no way to do that without losing a few votes.

Now, there’s no question that Bill White would make a hell of a candidate for Governor. He’ll have the big mandate from Houston, the well-deserved plaudits for all his good work during Katrina and Rita, an enviable campaign war chest, and the ability to raise a lot more dough quickly. If someone were to take a poll now, I wouldn’t be surprised if he were at least within margin-of-error distance from Rick Perry, if not leading him outright. If he were to decide to run, it would be the most exciting thing to happen in Texas Democratic politics since Ann Richards’ come-from-behind victory over Clayton Williams in 1990. It’s really easy to see where this buzz is coming from.

But let’s keep some perspective here. Bill White for Governor effectively means no more Bill White as Mayor. If he were planning to run, there’d be a lot more detectable activity towards that end than one suggestive domain name. Because of that, I don’t see this happening. 2010 and beyond? The sky’s the limit. Now? I could be wrong, but I don’t think he’s going anywhere.

Endorsement watch: But wait, there’s still more!

Just when I proclaim that the Chron is really truly finished with its 2005 endorsements, they go ahead and cross me up by finally evaluating the last three Constitutional amendments on the ballot. I’m not sure what took them so long to announce their opposition to Props 3, 6, and 8 – none of these are the least bit controversial – but then I can’t make any sense of their schedule to begin with. I mean, early voting ends tomorrow, and they’re just now publishing the last of their endorsements. You would think that they’d prefer to maximize whatever influence these things have by making sure they’re all written before the first vote is cast. Whatever. As a reminder, all the Chron’s endorsement editorials are here – scroll down to see them.

For the record, I voted yesterday. Unlike last year, when you had to pick your early-voting time and place carefully in order to avoid long lines, I was in and out of the West Gray Multi-Service Center in five minutes, even though I showed up at 5:30 PM, usually a busy after-work time. Turnout will be light on Tuesday, but I still recommend voting now while it’s really quiet.

UPDATE: Stace points to the early voting totals so far (Excel spreadsheet), and I confess it’s heavier than I would have thought, with just over 45,000 ballots cast through Tuesday. Still, even the West Gray location, the busiest one so far, has seen fewer than 60 people per hour on the average. That’s pretty darned slow.

Endorsement watch: At long last, District A

I have no idea what took them so long, but the Chron has finally rectified its most puzzling (to me, anyway) omission of the endorsement season by giving its seal of approval to incumbent City Council member Toni Lawrence in District A. We may have gotten some indication of how their process works, but the schedule is still a mystery. Be that as it may, this should be the last of them until runoff time.

Endorsement watch: HISD

The Chron puts what I believe are the wraps on its endorsements for 2005 by giving its recommendations in the HISD trustee races, choosing Richard Cantu in HISD1 and challenger Daisy Maura in HISD9. They did the one contested HCC trustee race yesterday, endorsing Richard Schecter for Position 5. I still don’t know what happened to City Council District A, not to mention several ballot propositions, but who knows, maybe they’re still to come.

Today’s profile is on the Mayoral race, in which some interesting numbers get tossed about:

Some political analysts say he could exceed the re-election margin of former Mayor Bob Lanier, who won his second term in 1993 with 90.8 percent of the vote, at the time the highest percentage in nearly 60 years. Lanier, like White, was popular and faced little-known challengers.

“I predict White will break 92 percent,” said Dave Walden, who served as chief of staff to Lanier and campaign manager to White’s 2003 runoff opponent, Orlando Sanchez. “All the stars are aligned for him.”

He noted that Lanier was under constant criticism from then-Controller George Greanias, while White has mostly kept cordial relations with other city officials. “What I didn’t expect was White’s ability to move things through council as smoothly as he has,” Walden said.

Ninety-two percent is pretty audacious, even more than Greg‘s 90% guesstimate and my downright pessimistic-by-comparison suggestion that the floor starts at 75%. Let’s make a contest out of it: What do you think Bill White’s election day tally will be? Go all the way down to the hundredth of a percent so we can more easily break a tie if we have to. I’ll put myself down for 82%. Leave your guesses in the comments and we’ll see in ten days who’s the closest.

Ah, here I’ve finally found the right index page with all the race profiles and Chron endorsements – note to whoever from the Chron is reading this, it would be nice if the Politics index page had this link. They’ve written about Props 1, 2, 5, 7, and 9, endorsing all but 2. For the rest, plus City Council A, you’re on your own, at least so far.

Endorsement watch: My turn

At long last, here’s my list of recommendations for the 2005 elections. I’m only going to make choices for races that will be on my ballot, and as James Campbell wrote today, these are just recommendations, not commands.

Mayor – Bill White

City Controller – Annise Parker

At Large #1 – Peter Brown

At Large #2 – Jay Aiyer

At Large #4 – Ron Green

District H – Adrian Garcia

HISD trustee position 1 – Natasha Kamrani

Ballot propositions:

Prop 1 – NO
Prop 2 – NO
Prop 3 – YES
Prop 4 – NO
Prop 5 – YES
Prop 6 – NO
Prop 7 – YES
Prop 8 – YES
Prop 9 – NO

Most of these decisions are fairly easy, since many races are not contested or not seriously contested. I can’t think of any scenario in which I’d be likely to change my mind, however – these are all high-quality people, and I’m very happy to be voting for them. The two with real choices are At Large #2 and HISD1. While there is more than one worthy candidate in each of those slots, I believe that Jay Aiyer and Natasha Kamrani represent the best of those choices. I think Jay has the strongest credentials in that race, and I’ve been very favorably impressed by Kamrani’s overall vision and plans for HISD. If you have the chance, in the waning days of the campaign, to meet either of these folks, or any of the others for that matter, I think you’ll understand why I feel as I do about them.

I’m not offering any recommendations in At Large #3 and #5, but for different reasons. There’s no one in #3 that I think is worth a vote. I wish there were someone running against Shelly Sekula Somthingorother that I could support, but the only thing that her opponent has done that I’ve noticed is leave spam comments on at least three different blogs, mine included (you didn’t see it here because I deleted it). I realize that I myself floated the idea of spoofing another candidate’s site in spam comments as a new-wave dirty trick, but I don’t see that happening here. Frankly, if I thought Somethingorother were smart enough to do that kind of thing, I’d have a whole new respect for her. So feel free to skip that race.

At Large #5 is a little different. I’m definitely more in line with challenger Mike Stoma philosophically than I am with incumbent Michael Berry, and that’s a consideration that normally carries a lot of weight for me. This is one of those times where it’s not so clear-cut. I believe that Berry was uniquely qualified this term to lead any organized anti-Bill White effort, since he had spent a fair amount of time on the Mayoral campaign trail with White in 2003 and he certainly has his own vision of what Houston should be like. He also has more gravitas and experience than the other At Large members who might have acted as a counterweight. Finally, we all know he wants to run for Mayor again some day, right? Well, not only did he not do that, but right from the very beginning he was publicly appreciative of Mayor White’s priority initiatives. Whatever you may think of the Boy Wonder, I feel that at some point, one must at least consider voting for someone who’s been supportive of things you favor. For that reason, I say make your own choice and feel good about it either way.

As for the ballot amendments, the two I feel the most strongly about are #1 and #2. Beyond those two, there isn’t much to get me all riled up. I’ve noted before that some people are advocating a blanket No on these propositions. Obviously, I think some are worthy of consideration, but none of them will break my heart if they don’t pass. Vote No on the first two and you can do what you want with the rest as far as I’m concerned.

HISD1 interview: Natasha Kamrani

Today I present the second Q&A session with a candidate for HISD trustee in position 1. My first such interview, with Richard Cantu, can be found here. Today’s subject is Natasha Kamrani. Early voting has already started, so if you haven’t cast your ballot yet, I hope these articles will be useful in helping you decide for whom to cast your ballot.

Without further ado:

1. Tell us about yourself – your background, your experience, your qualifications for the job.

I graduated from Miami University of Ohio in 1990 with a degree in History and a minor in Chinese. Upon graduation I applied to and was accepted into Teach For America, the national teacher corps of recent college graduates who commit to teach in inner-city and rural school districts that suffer from persistent teacher shortages. I was placed at the Houston Independent School District’s Edison Middle School to teach English as a Second Language to recent immigrants from Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala.

Upon completing my commitment to Teach For America, I spent the following four years as the local Executive Director of Teach For America where I was responsible for the training and placement of over 200 teachers and raising funds to sustain the organization.

I left Teach For America in 1997 and, upon completing my studies at the University of Houston Law Center, I have practiced civil litigation at a private law firm for the past five years.

In 1998, I married fellow Teach For America corps member, Chris Barbic. My husband is the founding head of schools of the YES College Preparatory School District. We are the parents of three-year old Tatiana and twenty-month old Ramiz.

I currently sit on the Advisory Board of Teach For America, the Houston Heights Association’s Education Committee and was a member of the task force which helped establish HISD’s Wilson Elementary Montessori School.

2. If elected, what would be your top priority? What is HISD doing that you would most like to see changed, and what is HISD not doing that you would most like to see them take up?

My top priority would be middle school reform. Simply put, the only true method to address failure in high school is to address the widespread failure in our middle schools. The strategies that our district is employing at the high school level are worthy, but what’s the point if widespread failure in our middle schools isn’t addressed at the same time? Some of the approaches that HISD is currently using to address failure in high school such as: creating smaller learning communities, and using student support to remediate and then accelerate instruction so that learning deficits are caught much earlier, are common sense ways to address middle school failure.

Students who are achieving at low levels in high school arrive in high school with major deficits. Students should not leave 8th grade unless they are on grade level and prepared to take a Distinguished Diploma track. Children who have been socially promoted through middle school don’t have the skills to successfully handle high school academics.

This leads to the “ninth grade cliff,” in which these unprepared and overwhelmed students end up in high school where they must now earn credits in order to advance to the next grade level. When children who don’t have the skills necessary to pass classes don’t, they become part of our horrifying high school drop out statistics.

Currently, great attention is being paid to making changes at the high school level; however, I believe this attention is misdirected. To address the very real problems we face with our high schools, we must focus our energies on creating excellent middle schools. Excellent middle schools will, in turn, address the issues we’re currently facing at the high school level including our high drop out rate.

3. The Texas Legislature has tried several times to change the way public schools are funded. What is your opinion of the things they tried to do? What should they have done, and what should they not have done?

Bottom line is that our state must be providing a larger share of public school funding. No two ways about it. The amount of funding we currently receive from the state, as opposed to the funding currently provided by our tax payers, is appallingly miniscule. Robin Hood, while an approach that on its face appears to provide positive solutions for many struggling districts, is simply a stop gap (and temporary) answer. We must call upon our state to step up to the plate and provide its fair share of school funding.

4. How has the No Child Left Behind legislation affected HISD? What can HISD do to better comply with NCLB’s requirements? What should be done with the schools that failed to meet NCLB goals this year?

Since HISD, under the leadership of Rod Paige, was the birthplace of the efforts now named federally as “No Child Left Behind,” our district has not, in any substantial way, been affected by this legislation.

Schools that fail to meet the Adequate Yearly Progress goals set out by NCLB must be reformed with a great sense of urgency. Failing schools must not be tolerated. However, what leads schools to fail may vary drastically school by school. Our district must make an effort to put in place an evaluation method which will determine why each school is failing. Based on this evaluation, the district must then devise a unique plan for each school–with the input of the community–for determining how to address the causes for failure and to then to implement a plan, including measures of success upon which the school can constantly be evaluated for improvement, to ensure that the school is taking the steps necessary to operate well for

5. HISD Superintendent Abe Saavedra has promised policy changes that would lead to a reduction in the amount of classroom time students spend on testing. What is the right amount of time for this? What changes would you like to see made?

NCLB mandates testing at certain grade levels. To the extent that this testing is mandated, our Superintendent’s hands are tied in reducing the amount of time actually spent taking tests. Where the district has room to move is in the amount of time spent PREPARING for tests. Since the test is a minimal skills test, the key to ensuring that “test prep” time is cut to a minimum is to ensure that the curriculum taught in our classrooms is of such a rigorous level that children will have no problem acing a minimal skills test. In addition, we need to have programs in place which remediate learning for children who arrive in school behind grade level and then
accelerate instruction to ensure that all our students leave performing on grade level–another important criteria in ensuring that children can take, and pass, tests without months of preparation.

6. What distinguishes you from your opponents in this race?

I am the only candidate for the board seat who has worked directly in
education–as a teacher and as executive director of Teach For America, an education non-profit. During my tenure as Executive Director of Teach For America, I visited every school in the district, I worked first hand with teachers, school administrators, district administration and board members. I am the only candidate who has this breadth of experience in and knowledge of our public schools In addition, my husband is also a former teacher and now head of schools. Public education is what my family has developed a
unique expertise in and it is our true passion.

In addition, my work as a lawyer involves countless hours of negotiation, mediation and settlement of cases. The skills I’ve developed working with people whose interests are sometimes in direct contradiction of one another will serve me well as I sit at a table with my eight fellow board members while we work together to negotiate strategies for improving our schools.

Thank you, Natasha Kamrani.

If anyone from Anne Flores Santiago’s campaign is reading this, I would still like to get and print her answers. Send me an email to kuff – at – offthekuff – dot – com if you have any questions.

Complaint filed against Save Texas Marriage

I’ll say this for Save Texas Marriage: They’ve stirred up the pot something fierce.

An organization of heterosexuals opposed to amending the Texas constitution to ban gay marriage is accused of using automated phone messages to mislead voters.

In tape recorded messages sent to a million homes in Texas a group called Save Texas Marriage says that amendment is so badly worded it would nullify common-law marriages.

Wednesday the conservative Liberty Legal Institute filed complaints with the Federal Communications Commission. Acting for the group supporting the amendment the institute claims the phone ads were designed to “confuse voters that favor the amendment using deceptive practices.” and argues the calls illegally went out to people who had registered for the National Do Not Call list.

Late Wednesday the FCC dismissed the complaint saying it does not regulate the content of political advertisements and the Do Not Call list does not apply to political campaigns.

Liberty Legal has also filed complaints with the Federal Election Commission, and The Federal Trade Commission.

Don’t forget the Food and Drug Administration, the Federal Aviation Administration, and FEMA, just in case. You know how sneaky those gays are.

I remain skeptical of the strategy that Save Texas Marriage is employing, but I cannot deny that it’s generated a lot of coverage. If local Happy Talk TV News around the state does teasers for it with one of the breathless blowdried anchorpeople saying something like “Could your marriage be outlawed in the next election?”, then I’d have to admit that they’ve hit the center of their target.

And two can play at the complaint-filing game. In response to a report that Rep. Warren Chisum sent out a pro-Prop 2 press release from his office in Austin, which could violate the statutory ban on the use of public funds for political advertising, BOR’s Karl-T filed a complaint and “request to investigate” these actions with a special prosecutor in the Public Integrity Unit of the Travis County District Attorney’s office. I’ll be very interested to see how that turns out.

In my opinion, No Nonsense In November founder Glen Maxey epitomized class when he gave the following statement in a story about a pro-Porp 2 rally thrown by the KKK:

Glen Maxey, who heads anti-proposition group No Nonsense in November, said it would be unfair to assume those who support the proposition also support the Klan.

“It just ticks me off that people like this purport to speak for anyone, including people on the other side of the debate,” said Maxey, an Austin Democrat who served several years in the Legislature as its only openly gay member.

“It’s certainly not helpful,” he added. “As a political consultant, I’d be drinking a stiff one right now if I had to deal with these people articulating my message.”

The next time one of our friends on the Right uses the actions of some isolated knucklehead to make a claim about “the Left”, show him this quote.

Finally, a little setting of expectations about the outcome:

State constitutional elections typically are low-key affairs, drawing fewer than 10 percent of voters to the polls. And because it is widely assumed the amendment will pass easily, apathy also could supress turnout, said state Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, the author of the ban.

For Chisum, winning with less than 70 percent of the vote would be a disappointment.


Most states that have approved gay marriage bans have done so by overwhelming margins, including 86 percent in Mississippi. The closest outcome was in Oregon, where gay rights advocates outspent their opponents but still lost 57 percent to 43 percent.

Because turnout will be low, their superior grassroots organization favors amendment opponents, said Glen Maxey, director of the Austin-based No Nonsense In November.

“Whoever has the best ground game in this election wins,” Maxey said.

Even matching Oregon’s result would be a political triumph, Maxey added, creating what he called a “Paul Hacket moment.”

Hacket was an anti-war Democratic candidate in Ohio who stunned the political establishment earlier this year by nearly winning a staunchly Republican congressional district.

“If we even come close, that changes people’s perceptions about Texas,” Maxey said.

Seventy percent versus fifty-seven percent. Who’s going to come closer? Leave your guesses in the comments.

Endorsement watch: Council Districts H and I

After a two-day hiatus, the Chron gets back in the endorsement business, as they recommend incumbents Adrian Garcia and Carol Alvarado for City Council Districts H and I, respectively. Garcia’s a slamdunk, as Alvarado would have been prior to the diploma controversy. Here’s how the Chron dealt with that:

Her opponent recently pointed out that Alvarado had not received the degree she claimed to have from the University of Houston, but this should not be disqualifying. University officials determined that Alvarado had earned the degree and promptly awarded it.

The more I think about it, the more I am convinced that this whole thing was no big deal. The fact that all it took for Alvarado to become official was to fill out some paperwork means to me that she was a graduate all along. Had she been short of credit hours, then I’d agree that she lied. If you could prove that she knew about this deficiency beforehand, it would still be a lie, but a relatively small one. As it actually is, I think the most she can be accused of is carelessness or maybe indifference to detail, and neither of those qualifies as a mortal sin in this context. Barring any subsequent revelations, I call this one a closed matter.

Back to the Chron, there’s still the curious omission of City Council District A from their endorsement list, plus of course the remaining ballot propositions and the HISD/HCC trustee races. On that last score, the HISD1 race generated some news today with the following story of another candidate’s carelessness.

Houston school board candidate Anne Flores Santiago told state ethics investigators last year that she helped falsify financial records to make it look as if her mother’s campaign for the Texas Senate had more supporters than it really did, records show.

Santiago’s mother, Yolanda Navarro Flores, agreed to pay a $1,000 civil fine to the Texas Ethics Commission in July 2004 to settle the case, according to the commission’s records.

Flores, a Houston Community College System board member, took out a $35,000 loan to finance her losing 2004 Democratic primary election against Mario Gallegos, the commission report says. Santiago and a campaign volunteer, however, reported that the money came from several campaign donors, including $9,000 from young members of Flores’ extended family.

The report made it seem Flores had collected nearly $57,000 from donors. A corrected version later filed by Flores put the figure closer to $17,000.

“The daughter states that she filed the report electronically with the commission without telling her mother of what she and the volunteer had done,” the report said.

Santiago, 38, and making her first run at elected office, said she had a limited role in the incident.

“I was simply the typist,” she said, explaining that the other volunteer “gave me instructions.”

“I entered data, and that was the extent,” she said.

Santiago said she was unaware at the time that the information on the campaign finance report was wrong.

“I did not know,” she said.

Santiago declined to answer further questions about her role in the ethics violation. She and her mother did not respond to e-mails or phone calls seeking the identity of the other campaign worker.

I have to say, I never find the Ken Lay defense strategy to be appealing. It’s also mighty convenient to be able to blame the screwup on an unnamed and unavailable-for-comment campaign volunteer. Maybe Santiago was “just the typist” as she claims, which would make her sin more venal than mortal, but it’s still embarrassing.

Santiago accused her political opponents — Natasha Kamrani and Richard Cantú — of leaking the Ethics Commission report to the media.

“I can sum it up in two words: dirty politics,” Santiago said. “I’m the front-runner in this race and my opponents are getting desperate.”

I find the TEC website to be almost unusably bad, so I’ll just ask: Is this sort of report public information? If it is, then one could claim that any enterprising reporter could have found it and written about it unbidden by another. Can one truly “leak” data that’s in the public domain?

If it’s supposed to be sealed (and to be honest, I can’t think of a good reason why it should be, not that this matters in Texas), then Santiago has a legitimate beef. But if it is out there where anyone with an Internet connection and/or some spare time can find it, then I say that had there been a greater interest by the press in this year’s elections we might have already known about this by now.

She then leveled some accusations of her own. Of Kamrani, she said: “I didn’t just register to vote 30 days ago like one of my opponents.” Of Cantú, she added: “Nor did I just pay my taxes right before I signed up to run either.


Kamrani said she has voted in previous Houston Independent School District board elections and in the 2004 general election last November. Her voter registration lapsed during changes in residency between 2001 and 2004, she said.

“I just moved into a new house,” Kamrani said.

Cantú acknowledged that he and his wife missed the deadline for paying their property taxes, but he said they paid before any lawyers got involved.

“Occasionally we’ll pay during the penalty period,” he said. “Like most middle-income folks living paycheck-to-paycheck … (But) I always make sure that our taxes are paid up.”

Harris County property tax records show Cantú paid the taxes on his home by the January deadline but waited until June to pay taxes on two other pieces of property. That cost him more than $200 in penalties and interest, but he was never considered delinquent. Cantú began collecting political donations a month later, records show.

Not being registered to vote is an unflattering thing for any aspiring candidate. When or if Kamrani voted between 2001 and 2004 should be verifiable – the Vo and Heflin attorneys certainly knew who to interview earlier this year for that race’s election contest – as should the date that her registration lapsed and how long it took to get fixed. Without that information, this strikes me as a pretty weak charge.

Likewise, if Cantu was late but not delinquent, then this too is a relatively minor thing. Color me unimpressed at Santiago’s counteraccusations. I can be convinced that she was an unwitting wrongdoer for the TEC thing, but this doesn’t enhance my opinion of her.

Endorsement watch: Is that all there is?

For the second consecutive day, there are no endorsements in the Chron’s op-ed pages (though there is the anticipated Rosa Parks obituary), which leads me to wonder if they’ve done all the endorsing they plan to do. Why that would be, and why they’ve skipped these particular races and propositions, are mysteries to me.

For example, the Express News has offered a recommendation on all nine propositions – you can see seven of them here, with the two others here and here. The Morning News has a concise summary of all of its recommendations here. The Statesman did an all-in-one piece almost two weeks ago. That’s not so hard, is it? I mean, sure, there’s city elections in Houston and not in these other places, but Dallas has over a dozen city propositions on its ballot, and the DMN has reviewed all of them by now. So where is the Chronicle?

Well, at least we’re still getting race coverage. Today’s piece is on the two contested HISD trustee races, one of which will be on my ballot.

Trustee Karla Cisneros’ decision not to seek re-election in District 1 set up the three-way match for her seat, and the outcome could change the board’s ethnic makeup.

A win by Anne Flores Santiago or Richard Cantú would give Hispanics three of HISD’s nine school board seats. More than half of HISD’s 210,000 students are Hispanic. Cisneros is Anglo and married to a Hispanic.

The current board comprises four whites, three blacks and two Hispanics.

Cisneros has endorsed Natasha Kamrani, a 37-year-old lawyer who came to Houston from Ohio 15 years ago as a Teach for America corps member teaching Spanish-speaking students at Edison Middle School.

Her husband, Chris Barbic, runs the YES College Prep charter schools.

Kamrani said she would push to improve HISD’s middle schools and support policies aimed at preparing all high school graduates for college.

Santiago, 38, wants to expand an HISD partnership with the Houston Community College System that allows high school students to earn college credits. Too many HISD students are graduating without basic skills, she said.

“We need to make sure our students can read and write when they graduate from high school,” Santiago said at a recent candidates’ forum. Santiago owns a private ambulance service and her mother, Yolanda Navarro Flores, is a member of the community college board. She is endorsed by HISD Trustee Diana Dávila, the wife of HCCS board member Abel Dávila.

Cantú, 36, runs Mayor Bill White’s Citizens’ Assistance Office and is the only District 1 candidate who has sought a school board seat before. He has promised to make teacher pay raises and HISD’s high dropout rate his top priorities.

He is endorsed by HISD’s main teachers union, the Houston Federation of Teachers.

Cantu said he supports HISD’s partnership with Project GRAD, a non-profit group that promises $4,000 college scholarships to graduates from certain low-income schools. The organization requires the schools it supports to use its teaching methods and strict disciplinary practices. HISD trustees this year cut Project GRAD’s budget by $1 million amid concerns from some administrators that the organization hasn’t delivered strong enough results.

Cisneros has endorsed Kamrani, who is definitely the favorite choice in my neighborhood. I’ll have more on this shortly, but in the meantime I’ll point you to Kamrani’s website so you can learn more about her, and to my previous Q&A session with Cantu.

Finally, the tireless Sal Costello has a pointer to more video of him disputing pro-Prop 1 assertions. Eye on Williamson has more on yesterday’s Costello video, plus a plea to help No Nonsense In November in that county.

UPDATE: Forgot to note that BOR has some information on statewide coverage of the Save Texas Marriage effort, and that Jonathan Ichikawa was way ahead of the curve on this one.