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Election 2023

What I want from the next HCDP Chair

As you know, the Harris County Democratic Party will soon have a new Chair. And as you know, I am a Democratic precinct chair, which means I’m one of the several hundred people that will vote on who that is. So as a public service to you, and as my way of telling the candidates what will influence my vote, these are my priorities for the next HCDP Chair.

1. Start with a goal of 1 million Democratic votes for Joe Biden in 2024, and really aim for 1.1 million. Hillary got 700K votes in 2016. Beto got 800K in 2018. Biden (and Ed Gonzalez) got 900K in 2020. There’s already more than 2.5 million registered voters in Harris County, up about 100K from November 2020, and I expect there to be over 2.6 million by next November. Sixty-five percent turnout (we were at over 68% in 2020) gets 1.7 million voters total (up less than 50K from 2020), and hitting one million Dems would mean taking almost 59% of the vote for Biden, which so far is the only real reach here as he was at 56% in 2020. Beto got to 58% in 2018.

What I’m really aiming for is a net of at least 300K for Biden in Harris County; he was at plus 218K in 2020, after Beto was at plus 200K in 2018. If we want to talk about making Texas competitive for Biden, and whoever our 2024 Senate nominee may be, that’s the kind of Dem advantage in Harris County we’re going to need, at a minimum. That’s the kind of vision I want from the next Chair, and I want there to be a plan to go along with it.

2. Improve performance in base Democratic areas. Harris County went from being evenly matched in 2012 to the strong blue county it is now in large part because Dems have vastly increased performance in formerly dark red places. I’ve said this before, but Mitt Romney won 11 State Rep districts in 2012, and he won them all with over 60% of the vote. In 2020, Donald Trump only won two State Rep district with 60% or more, HDs 128 and 130, and he won nine overall with HDs 134 and 135 being won by Dems.

But Democrats didn’t do as well in a number of dark blue districts in 2020 as they had in 2016 and 2018, and as we saw in 2022 it was in those districts where Beto fell short, often well short, of his 2018 performance. We need to turn that around. Part of this is that we have a vibrant Democratic club structure in place, with a lot of that participation coming in the formerly red areas. There’s a lack of clubs, and thus neighborhood-based outreach, in a lot of traditional Democratic areas. It’s also a dirty secret that some Democratic elected officials in those areas do very little to help with GOTV efforts. Achieving the goal set in item #1 will require an all-hands-on-deck mobilization. I want to know what the next Chair intends to do about that.

3. Find ways to partner with Democratic parties in neighboring counties. I know the job title is “Harris County Dem Party Chair”, but we abut a lot of other counties, and in quite a few places the development just sprawls over the border, making the distinction between the two of lesser value. There are also a lot of offices that include parts of Harris and parts of one or more neighbors: CDs 02 and 22, SBOE6, SDs 07 and 17, and all of the Firth and 14th Courts of Appeal benches, of which there will be ten Democratic incumbents on the ballot next year. We should find ways to collaborate and cooperate to help our candidates in these races.

In counties like Brazoria and Montgomery, population growth near the Harris County border has led to some burgeoning Democratic turf, mostly around Pearland for the former and around the Woodlands for the latter. I also believe that Conroe is starting to become like Sugar Land, a small but growing urban center of its own that we ought to see as such, and seek to build alliances there. In Galveston and to a lesser extent Waller, the growth has been in redder areas, and we need to find the allies there who likely feel isolated and help them connect with and amplify each other. In Chambers and Liberty, anything we can do to help slow down the small but steady Republican advantage will help.

My point is that 10-20 years ago, as Democrats were starting to assert power in Harris County, it was still quite common for Dems in the then-dark red areas to believe they were the only ones like themselves there. A big part of what the county’s organizing, and the growth of the local clubs, has done is to dispel that notion and allow people the chance to enhance their communities. Anything we can do – in a collaborative, “how can we help?” manner that respects the people who have been doing their own work there for a long time – to help with that will help us all.

4. Threat management. I’m being deliberately provocative here because I think this is urgent and I want people to see the dangers. We know there’s a lot of disinformation and propaganda aimed at non-English speaking communities – we’ve seen the websites and Facebook posts, and we’ve seen the mailers and heard the radio ads. We know that “poll watchers” with malign intent are out there. We’ve just had multiple winning candidates get sued by their losing opponents, and many of them were left scrambling to pay for lawyers to defend themselves in court. We’ve faced previous legal challenges over voting locations and voting hours and mail ballots and on and on. For the latter at least, we’ve had a strong response from the County Attorney, but we can’t assume that will always be the case. We need to be aware of past and current threats to our elections and candidates, we need to be on the lookout for emerging threats, and we need to have a plan and dedicated staff and resources to respond to them.

This is where my thinking is. I don’t expect the candidates for HCDP Chair to have fully formed answers to these problems, but I do hope they agree that these are urgent matters and deserve attention. They may have other priorities and I’m open to that, I just want to be heard. So far the two candidates that I know of – Silvia Mintz and Mike Doyle – are the only two that have come forward. I’ll let you know if I hear anything more on that, and you let me know what you think.

HCDP Chair Odus Evbagharu to step down

This was expected.

Odus Evbagharu

The chairman of the Harris County Democratic Party on Wednesday announced that he would step down at the end of February.

Odus Evbagharu has led the party since 2021. The 30-year-old native of Katy is the youngest person and the first African American to serve as the party chairperson, according to a news release.

“I treasure the work we were able to accomplish during the last two years,” Evbagharu said in the release.

During Evbagharu’s tenure, the party raised more than $2.1 million and created programs dedicated to voter outreach and volunteer recruitment, according to the release.

I had heard chatter about this for a couple of months. At the last CEC meeting, he made oblique reference to stepping down as the meeting was coming to an end. So as I said, this was expected.

I think Odus did a good job as HCDP Chair. We made it through the 2022 election, the first post-Trump off-year election, with Democrats still in charge in Harris County. The party overall is in decent shape, and better organized than it had been in the past. I also think the next Chair will have some work to do to improve performance and get ready for the 2024 election. I have some specific thoughts on that, which I will share in a future post. As a precinct chair, I’ll get to participate in the process to pick the next Chair, who will then need to stand for election in the 2024 primary. Odus will serve through the end of this month, and the next CEC meeting on March 19 will be when his successor is named. I’ll post updates and candidate names as I get them.

UPDATE: As soon as I had hit Save on this draft, I see via Stace that attorney and former HD132 candidate Silvia Mintz has announced her candidacy. I look forward to speaking with her about this.

UPDATE: I have since received an email from Mike Doyle, the current president of the Harris County Democratic Lawyers Association, announcing his candidacy as well.

A petition effort to force H-GAC to be more fair to Houston and Harris County

I heard about Fair For Houston over the weekend, and I like where they’re coming from.

H-GAC determines the funding and planning for our:

  • Sidewalks & Roads

  • Flooding Prevention & Mitigation

  • Childcare

  • Workforce Development

  • Large-Scale Infrastructure, e.g., Highways

But we are losing funding for our city. Houston is being silenced on H-GAC.

Houston makes up 60% of the population under H-GAC’s authority, yet the city only has 20% of H-GAC’s voting power. Houston’s representatives are unable to prioritize what is most important to our communities.

What are we doing?

H-GAC cannot exist without Houston, so it is up to us to fight for fair representation, fair funding, and fair outcomes for Houston. We have the power to decide what’s right for our city.

We are collecting signatures of support from Houston voters to put this issue on the ballot. In November, Houstonians can vote to amend our city charter, forcing H-GAC to adopt a modern proportional voting system.

Proportional H-GAC voting empowers Houstonians to fund projects and programs that benefit our daily lives. It gives power to our leaders. It gives power to the voters who elect them.

The City of Houston has the power to change H-GAC and the people have the power to make this happen.

I’ve noted the disproportionate representation on H-GAC and its recent effects on Houston before. I don’t know what exactly happens if Houston and Harris County decide to take their ball and go home – federal and state grant monies still have to go through some kind of distribution process, and I’m not sure how that would move forward in this scenario – but it doesn’t have to come to that. All this is saying is that we deserve a fairer shake. H-GAC can make that happen, or they can lose access to the grants that Houston and Harris County attract; I’d bet that Fort Bend would be willing to come along with us, if we wind up making our own replacement organization. I’m in favor of putting some pressure on them to do the right thing.

Go visit Fair For Houston if you want to sign the petition or otherwise get involved. There are two other referenda scheduled to be on the 2023 ballot. I won’t be shocked if some other efforts are out there; if you know of something, give it a mention in the comments.

Chron story on HCC redistricting

This focuses on one district, which seems to be the main and possibly only point of contention in the process. I’d like to know more than what was in this story.

Reagan Flowers

Houston Community College trustee Reagan Flowers had to receive special permission to hold a forum last week at Emancipation Park because it’s not in her district, but she and many other Third Ward community members think it should be.

Ten years after HCC last redistricted and divided Third Ward between two tracts, Flowers is trying to put the historic, majority-Black neighborhood squarely back into District 4. She faces an uphill battle, as other trustees would see changes to their own districts if Third Ward is pieced back together.

HCC’s District 4 currently represents the Medical Center, Museum District, Sunnyside and Third Ward’s south part. The northernmost part was absorbed into its eastern neighbor, District 3, in the last redistricting, Flowers said.

“It’s caused this divide where we can’t speak with one voice when it comes to Houston Community College,” she said. “That doesn’t necessarily support the culture, the history of Third Ward.”

District 3, which encompasses parts of east and southeast Houston, counted the lowest population among HCC districts in 2010 and 2020. Districts have to be redrawn when the population of the most populous district — now District 4, in west Houston — exceeds the population of the least populous district by more than 10 percent, based on the most recent major Census updates.

HCC’s first proposal for redistricting, based on the 2020 U.S. Census, mostly left District 4 alone. Still, community members hoping to regain the northern part of Third Ward face resistance because a change would cause them to shed another part of their district — and District 3 is already looking for more space to expand in order to balance the district populations.

[…]

Third Ward residents have long lamented a pattern of division in their neighborhood. The Museum District, Midtown and what is now East Downtown were formerly considered Third Ward.

HCC appears to be the only governing body that splits Third Ward — and in doing so excludes some of their most well-known spots, including Jack Yates High School, Emancipation Park, Cuney Homes and Project Row Houses.

While HISD, City Hall and Houston Super Neighborhoods currently keep Third Ward intact, some worry HCC’s current and proposed maps could set a precedent for others to follow their lead.

“It’s dangerous ground,” said Flowers, whose term expires at the end of the year. “What’s happening with HCC and District 3 is very disrespectful to the Black community and the Third Ward, and it doesn’t have to be.”

See here and here for the background. I wish the story had included comments from other Trustees as well, especially District 3 Trustee Adriana Tamez, since moving the Third Ward back into District 4 would have a big effect on her. If you look at all of the maps that have been proposed (downloadable PDF), any significant changes to Districts 3 and 4 would also affect District 9, and so it would have been nice for the story to have a comment from its Trustee, Pretta VanDible Stallworth, as well.

I had the chance to talk to Trustee Flowers about this. She told me that Plan 2C, which you can find on page 31 of that PDF, accomplishes what she is advocating, but she does not currently have the support to get it passed. Map 1, which is in that presentation and also viewable here, is the one that is set to pass. But there’s still time, and if this is something you care about, you can contact your Trustee and let them know it. The public hearing on the redistricting proposal will be February 15, as noted before.

As I said about HISD redistricting, I don’t think anyone is trying to screw the Third Ward here. The fact is that Harris County’s population is shifting westward you can see the demographic data in that PDF download – and District 3 is in need of more population. Moving the Third Ward out of 3 increases that need, and that has to come from somewhere, which affects more people. Redistricting is always nuanced and multi-dimensional, and in the end it’s zero-sum. All you can do is make your case and do your best to minimize the negative effects on everyone involved.

January 2023 campaign finance reports: City of Houston

It’s late January, so you know what that means: It’s campaign finance report time again. The reports of the greatest interest will be for the city of Houston, but I’ll be checking in on HISD, HCC, and Harris County as well. The July 2022 reports are here, the January 2022 reports are here, and the July 2021 reports are here.


Candidate     Raised      Spent     Loan     On Hand
====================================================
Hollins      547,027    469,141        0   1,062,754
Edwards      567,005    195,257        0   1,044,338
Whitmire   1,148,015    249,142        0  10,100,086
Kaplan       465,180    177,578  200,000   1,164,527

Peck          10,750     13,940        0      20,729
Jackson        2,500     14,965        0      14,971
Kamin         52,080     12,255        0     238,337
 Scarbrough        0          0        0      14,810   
E-Shabazz     
L Dixon            0        254      100         254
Thomas        43,996     11,310        0      89,042
Huffman        5,850      3,624        0      35,012
Castillo      37,448      1,037   10,000      41,935
G Lindner      4,503          0        0       4,503
Martinez      78,605      6,130        0      52,187
Pollard       17,350     15,412   40,000     718,379
 Sanchez      30,140      4,201   20,000      25,938
C-Tatum       14,250     13,687        0     155,691

Hellyar       65,854      6,772        0      44,710
Coryat         5,626      4,063        0       1,562
Bess               0          0        0           0
Carter        85,926      9,456    4,000      78,768
Cooper        23,977     17,631        0       9,189
Plummer        4,125     10,309        0      24,741
 Morales      12,900        417    5,534      18,016
Alcorn       155,301     28,187        0     306,273

Martin         8,250     12,493        0     161,851
Kubosh        22,900      3,612  196,000      54,289

Wolfthal      43,812     16,683        0      24,953
Flickinger         0      1,933   50,000           0

Turner       228,862    186,942        0     842,484

Cisneros         250      7,215        0      31,128
Gallegos      21,787     13,500        0     133,471

Knox          16,175     20,914        0      14,231
Robinson      44,894     27,296        0     271,624

Brown              0      5,404   75,000      29,316

Laster             0      3,254        0     147,138

I have collected all of the reports for the people listed above, and you can find them in this Google Drive folder. I decided not to link to all of them individually just because it was more work than I felt like doing. Omitting that means I don’t have a complete listing, with full names and the office they are seeking, of all the candidates. I’ll be sure to at least mention everyone of interest later in the post.

I’ve grouped everyone in the table above as follows: First are the Mayoral candidates, then the candidates for district Council offices, listed in alphabetical order by office – Amy Peck is District A, Tarsha Jackson is District B, and so on. The open offices are Districts E, H, and I. There are so far two challengers to incumbent Council members, and I have indented their names to indicate them – Daphne Scarbrough (yeah, the same person who was a leading opponent of light rail on Richmond Avenue, here to scourge us again) is running against CM Abbie Kamin in C, and Ivan Sanchez, who was a Democratic candidate for CD07 in 2018, is running against CM Ed Pollard in District J. Martina Lemond Dixon is running in E, Mario Castillo and Janette Garza Lindner (2021 candidate for HISD district I) are running in H (my district), and Joaquin Martinez is running in I. The one person that did not have a report filed as of Friday was District D incumbent Carolyn Evans-Shabazz.

The next group is for the At Large seats, of which #s 1, 2, and 3 are open. Nick Hellyar, who ran for At Large #4 in 2019, is running for #2, as are Marina Coryat and Danielle Bess (former candidate for HD147 in 2022), and Twila Carter and Dannell Cooper are running for #3. No one has yet filed a finance report saying they plan to run for At Large #1. You can be sure that will change, and that all of these fields will be much larger by the time the filing deadline rolls around. Indeed, they may already be larger, as there are two candidates who didn’t specify an office in their reports; I’ll get to them in a minute. As above, a candidate opposing an incumbent is indented. Yes, that’s our old buddy Roy Morales running against CM Letitia Plummer in At Large #4.

Next we have the two term-limited Council members who are now running for City Controller, and following them are two candidates who did not specify an office on their report, Leah Wolfthal and Fred Flickinger. I met Leah Wolfthal at the January CEC meeting for HCDP precinct chairs, and I thought she told me she is running in At Large #2. Her website just says “for At Large City Council”, so better not to make any assumptions. I’ve put her in this group for that reason.

Everyone after that is not running for anything, from Mayor Turner to the four CMs to Controller Chris Brown. Former CM Mike Laster, who termed out in 2019, still has a decent amount of cash on hand. I assume the four people in this grouping who remain with over $100K on hand have some plan, perhaps vague and unformed but still existent, to do something with it. What that may be is not known to me, and possibly to them, at this time.

The Chron picks a few highlights from the Mayoral portion of the reports. The one thing I will add to that is that I must have missed Lee Kaplan’s July 2022 report, because I was surprised by his cash on hand total. Kaplan raised about $850K in the last period, which combined with a small amount of spending gives him the cash on hand total he has now. I have included Kaplan’s July 2022 finance report in that Google Drive folder as well.

There are candidates now who have not yet filed a finance report, and there are people who will be candidates that have not yet formally announced their candidacies. The July finance reports will tell us a much more complete story, though even then there will be room for more, as the filing deadline is not until August. This is what we know now. If you have anything to add, by all means please do so.

So how much money does Whitmire have available for his mayoral campaign?

It’s already a lot, and it could be a whole lot more.

Sen. John Whitmire

State Sen. John Whitmire is kicking off his mayoral campaign with a $10 million war chest, most of it drawn from the money he has amassed over decades in the Legislature.

The campaign balance dwarfs the resources of his opponents, but it could renew debate about how much of that money the city’s campaign finance laws allow him to use.

Whitmire’s first mayoral campaign finance report, filed Tuesday, shows $1.1 million in new donations between his formal campaign launch in November and the end of the year. The report’s staggering number, though, is the amount of cash he reports having on hand: about $10.1 million.

The sum makes him the overwhelming financial heavyweight in the race — no other candidate had more than $1 million on hand as of last summer. Other candidates, including former county clerk Chris Hollins, former city councilmember Amanda Edwards, and attorney Lee Kaplan, are expected to share more current numbers Tuesday, as well.

It is not yet clear how much of that money Whitmire will seek to spend. Sue Davis, a consultant for Whitmire, said the report shows the full balance of his campaign account, filed with both the state and the city. The campaign started earmarking money raised for the mayor’s race at the end of last year — the $1.1 million — which “has more than enough to start this year,” Davis said.

The move, though, may test the enforcement of an ordinance that was intended to limit how much money raised for non-city accounts can be used for city campaigns. The council members who introduced and passed the law in 2005 said it was meant to cap that amount at $10,000. It was intended to treat non-city accounts like any other political entity that seeks to support a city campaign: subject to a $10,000 cap on donations.

Former councilmember Gordon Quan, who spearheaded the ordinance, confirmed the intent behind the law in an email to the Chronicle last week. The law says candidates can use money raised for a non-city public office “in an amount not to exceed the maximum contribution that the candidate may accept from a single donor,” which is $5,000 for individuals and $10,000 for political groups.

In practice, though, the city has not enforced the ordinance that stringently. A decade later, in 2015, then-City Attorney Dave Feldman told candidates they could use the amount of money under the cap from each individual donor, rather than from the account as a whole.

That allowed then-State Rep. Sylvester Turner to use $900,000 from his legislative account to start his mayoral bid, which ultimately proved successful.

City Attorney Arturo Michel, who returned to City Hall in December 2020, was serving his first stint as the city’s top lawyer in 2005, when Council first passed the law. The legal department, under his leadership at the time, helped craft the ordinance.

Michel, though, suggested Tuesday that Feldman’s interpretation was sound in its reading of the law’s actual language.

Feldman’s “determination reflected the language used in the code when adopted and as exists now,” Michel said. That language is less supportive of the more stringent interpretation, he added.

“Texas law is clear that statements made by members of a legislative governing body are not evidence of collective intent of the body and do not override the language used in the law,” Michel said.

The law has not been thoroughly tested in court, and it is possible another candidate could seek a ruling limiting what Whitmire can spend from his Senate funds. No candidate publicly has suggested they will do so.

See here for the July finance reports; Whitmire had not yet filed a city report. There are as of Tuesday night a number of January reports available on the city’s campaign finance webpage – you know I’m looking for them – but none of the Mayoral candidates had them up there yet.

The story references a lawsuit filed by Chris Bell, who was a Mayoral candidate in 2015, to challenge the cash on hand total that Turner claimed. There was a separate federal lawsuit filed to challenge the city’s blackout period for fundraising – in those days, you couldn’t fundraise outside of an election year – and after the plaintiff won an injunction the city basically agreed with his position to strengthen their case against Bell, who eventually dropped his suit.

I think the city should enforce its laws, though I can’t say with complete confidence that they’d win in court if there is a challenge over this limitation. I don’t know if someone will file a complaint to stop Whitmire from using his entire treasury, but if I were advising Whitmire I’d suggest he go through the last five or ten years’ worth of reports, claim the money that would clearly be under the limit, and then dare anyone to sue him. He’d still end up with a ton of cash and a plausible claim to already be in compliance. We’ll see what happens.

HCC redistricting update

I got this email from HCC Trustee Reagan Flowers, which has prompted me to remind you that HCC redistricting is also happening, and per the Redistricting Info page, there are community events going on right now to help you understand what is being proposed and how you can give feedback. These events are also being livestreamed, and you can submit comments or propose your own map here. Trustee Flowers prefers the current map option 2, which she says will keep the Third Ward in the same district.

I previously mentioned the HCC redistricting process here, in an earlier post about HISD redistricting. The next regular public Trustee meeting on February 15 will be the public hearing on redistricting, and the deadline to submit comments and proposed maps is February 28. The final map will be voted on at the April 19 meeting. Make your voice heard!

San Antonio will vote on marijuana decriminalization

We’ll see how it goes.

Progressive groups celebrated on the steps of City Hall Tuesday afternoon before delivering the boxes of signed petitions needed to get a measure in front of voters that would decriminalize both cannabis possession and abortion.

Ananda Tomas, executive director of police reform group ACT 4 SA, told reporters that her group and its allies collected 38,200 signatures in favor of the San Antonio Justice Charter. That’s well above the roughly 20,000 required to put it on the ballot for May’s citywide election.

If passed, the charter also would codify the ban the San Antonio Police Department’s current leadership has placed on police chokeholds and no-knock warrants.

“I’ve been frustrated working within the system and working in City Hall to try to get things like this done,” District 2 City Councilman Jalen McKee-Rodriguez told charter supporters. “I think this is a demonstration that when the people will it, it will happen.”

Although the petition garnered support from McKee-Rodriguez and an array of progressive groups from around the state, it’s likely to face stiff resistance from others. Danny Diaz, head of San Antonio’s powerful police union, said his organization will work to defeat the measure, which he said ties officers’ hands.

See here for some background and here for an earlier version of the story. The San Antonio Report adds some details.

The City Clerk’s office has 20 business days, until Feb. 8, to verify the signatures.

“We’re ready,” City Clerk Debbie Racca-Sittre said inside City Hall as she and a colleague sealed and time stamped four boxes filled with more than 5,000 pages of petition signatures.

City Council will call for the election, which will include council district seats and other local elections, during its Feb. 16 meeting.

Voters will likely see just one item on the May 6 ballot to make the batch of changes to the City’s Charter — but city officials could split them up into separate votes, Tomas said. “The intent is for it to be one single proposition. I think that that’s still going to be a conversation with City Council.”

[…]

The charter changes would essentially direct the police department not to spend resources pursuing most abortion and low-level marijuana possession cases.

A provision in the Texas Constitution states that “no charter or any ordinance passed under said charter shall contain any provision inconsistent with the Constitution of the State, or of the general laws enacted by the Legislature of this State.”

Whether the charter rules, if approved, violate that provision may ultimately be left up to legal challenges — but “this is entirely legal,” Mike Siegel, political director and co-founder of Ground Game Texas, told the San Antonio Report.

“Every day, police departments decide what they’re going to enforce and what they’re not going to enforce, and this represents the people of San Antonio saying: these are not our priorities for our scarce public dollars,” Siegel said. “The roots of the Texas Constitution are in local self control [and] self determination. So that’s why we have charter cities that have this authority to adopt their own charters and decide their own laws.”

It will be up to opponents of the charter changes to decide whether they want to challenge it, he said.

I would expect this to pass, as similar referenda has done in other cities. Whether it will get a similarly chilly reception from City Council or Commissioners Court remains to be seen. Unlike some other counties, the Bexar County District Attorney is on board with the idea, as noted in this Texas Public Radio story, so they have that going for them. On the other hand, the Lege is out there as well, with a giant hammer to wield against cities and counties that do things the Republicans don’t like. Sometimes I don’t necessarily mind Houston being a bit behind the activism curve. If six months or a year from now this ordinance is in place and being complied with, I’ll be delighted and looking to our city to follow suit. If not, I’ll be disappointed but not surprised. Stay tuned.

HISD asked to hold off on redistricting

There are still concerns about the proposed map.

Community members and advocates are asking the Houston ISD board to redraw its redistricting plans to keep communities in southwest Houston together so that the votes of Latinos and immigrants are not diluted.

The Gulfton, Mid-West, Westwood, Braeburn and Sharpstown neighborhoods are split among three different districts in the proposals being made to rebalance the district’s nine trustee districts to account for 2020 census figures.

“We believe southwest Houston is compact enough to keep it in one district,” said Juan Cardoza-Oquendo, director of public policy for Houston in Action. “It’s not big enough where these immigrant communities would have power in multiple districts.”

[…]

Maria Benzon, a parent who works at Sugar Grove Academy, a middle school in Sharpstown, urged the board to not vote until these concerns are addressed.

“I’m here today to ask that you delay any votes on the district plan, and consider a more equitable version than (the proposed plans),” Benzon said. “I know these areas. Historically, these communities have had voting power diluted by three districts — 5, 6 and 7, and they have not been represented by people with similar backgrounds and experiences.”

This is the first time advocates have asked the board to delay. In December, the sent a letter to the board to hold off on voting claiming informational meetings were not well publicized and were at inconvenient times.

“As you can see by the majority of speakers, there is still some concern about redistricting,” Trustee Patricia Allen, who represents District IV said. “I think we need to take time to listen to the community in case we need to adjust.”

See here and here for the background, and here for the HISD redistricting page, which includes the two proposed maps. I don’t know enough about the area to comment on the feedback, but I favor HISD taking the time to iron out as many points of conflict that they can. The realistic deadline for getting this done, to allow time for the elections office to update all of its files and give potential candidates the opportunity to consider their options before the late August filing deadline, is in February. I’m hopeful we can get it done.

The first two candidates for City Controller

Two term-limited Council members are the first to toss their hats into the ring.

CM Dave Martin

Houston City Council members Dave Martin and Michael Kubosh on Tuesday confirmed their plans to run for city controller in November.

As the city’s independently elected financial officer, the controller certifies the availability of funds for the budget and all spending. It also processes payments, manages the city’s $4.5 billion investment portfolio, audits city departments, conducts the sale of municipal bonds and produces an annual report of the city’s finances.

Having served the maximum two terms, current Controller Chris Brown will step down at the end of this year.

District E Councilmember and Mayor Pro Tem Martin and at-Large Councilmember Kubosh previously had indicated their interest in the city controller position. They have not been able to announce their campaigns until now due to Texas’s resign-to-run law, which bars city council members from running for another office more than a year and 30 days before their term ends.

CM Michael Kubosh

Martin, who has been on council since 2012, cited his decades of experience in finance and accounting in the private and public sectors. Having worked for “Big Four” accounting firms earlier in his career and currently leading the Budget and Fiscal Affairs Committee at City Council, he said he is equipped to help Houston optimize its finances.

“I know more about city finance and general accounting and finance than any candidate that’s going to pop up in this race,” Martin said. “I’ll put my credentials up against anyone’s.”

Kubosh, who has served as the at-large position No. 3 council member since 2014, touted his experience running in city-wide elections. Calling himself an outsider and a political activist, he highlighted his successful effort to advocate for the removal of red-light cameras in Houston prior to his time in office. He said he would not shy away from confrontations if elected.

“I have a cross-section of voters throughout the city. (Martin) hasn’t run citywide. He’s only run in District E,” Kubosh said. “And I am very aggressive. I’ll speak up for the people.”

I’ve heard talk about CM Martin as a Controller candidate for some time now. CM Kubosh had been mentioned as a possible Mayoral candidate in the past but that had died down. For what it’s worth, as of the July finance reports, Martin had $151K on hand to $60K for Kubosh. The January reports will be out soon and we’ll see what they look like. There’s plenty of time to raise more money, though the Controller’s race usually doesn’t attract the big bucks.

I say these are the first two candidates for Controller because there’s just no way that they’re the only two. Given the demographics and politics of Houston, it would be mind-boggling in the extreme for there not to be at least one candidate of color in the race. In 2015 the field included MJ Khan, Jew Don Boney, Carroll Robinson, and Dwight Jefferson. Khan also ran in 2009; he and Pam Holm lost to Ronald Green. Just a stray, idle thought, but maybe this would be a good opportunity for a Latino candidate. Anyway, this is the time of the cycle where we start seeing a bunch of candidate announcements. I’m sure there will be plenty more soon enough.

Trying again in Harker Heights

I admire the determination.

Cannabis reform advocates are pushing back against the city council of the Central Texas city of Harker Heights, which recently rejected a voter-approved ballot measure decriminalizing low levels of pot possession there.

Harker Heights was one of five Texas municipalities in which voters during the November midterms approved decriminalization initiatives. While at least two other of those votes received blowback from local officials, Harker Heights is so far the first to reject voters’ approval outright.

Voter mobilization group Ground Game Texas, which championed Harker Heights’ original ballot initiative, said it’s launched a new petition drive to override the council ordinance, which passed Nov. 22. Some 64% of voters in the city of 34,000 people approved the decriminalization initiative.

“By voting to repeal Prop A, the Harker Heights City Council sent a clear message to their constituents that they don’t respect the will of the voters or the democracy they participate in,” Ground Game Texas Executive Director Julie Oliver said in a news release. “These antidemocratic politicians are trying to throw away the votes of more than 5,000 Harker Heights residents — but we won’t let them. With this new referendum, Ground Game Texas will ensure the will of voters isn’t trampled on by their local elected officials.”

See here and here for the background. I consider what Harker Heights City Council did to be defensible, but I would not feel the same way if this effort succeeds and they override it again. At this point, the opponents of this proposal on City Council can make their case directly to the voters, so there’s no question about conflicting mandates. Whatever happens, this should be the last word, until and unless the state gets involved.

On a related note:

Organizers have gathered more than 26,000 signatures so far for a petition that would give San Antonio voters in May the opportunity to decriminalize marijuana possession, end enforcement of abortion laws, establish a city “justice director” position, ban police from using no-knock warrants and chokeholds and expand the city’s cite-and-release policy for low-level, nonviolent crimes.

The local police reform advocacy group ACT 4 SA aims to collect 35,000 signatures — anticipating that some won’t be verified — to submit to the City Clerk before the early January deadline.

But even if they miss that goal, voters can expect to see the slate of proposed changes, collectively known as the “Justice Charter,” to the city charter on the November 2023 ballot because the signatures collected are valid for six months.

“Two-thirds of the people I talked to sign [the petition],” said Ananda Tomas, executive director of ACT 4 SA, which launched the petition effort in October. “They’re either for the initiatives or they just want to put it up to a vote because they think that this is something we should vote on.”

San Antonio’s police union has criticized the Justice Charter as an overreach into police policies as well as violations of state and federal law. Union President Danny Diaz has pointed out that chokeholds and no-knock warrants already are prohibited, while enforcement policies for marijuana and abortion are determined at the state level.

San Antonio had previously passed an ordinance that “recommends that no local funds be used to investigate criminal charges related to abortions”. I assume this would go further than that, but it’s not clear to me exactly how the referendum differs from the existing ordinance. It’s clear that opinions differ about the legality and enforceability of the marijuana-related measures, and I’d say the same would be true for the abortion one. I strongly suspect we’ll be hearing from the Legislature on the latter, and quite possibly on the former as well. Be that as it may, I will be very interested to see how this turns out, and whether something similar happens in Houston.

More information about HISD redistricting, please

A reasonable ask.

Several local nonprofit and advocacy groups penned a letter asking Houston ISD to postpone its decision on how to redraw trustee district boundaries.

Initially, the board was set to vote on the plan Thursday, according to a meeting agenda. Local advocates decried the move, stating the community was not given enough notice, and demanded it be moved to Feb 2.

Judith Cruz, president of the board, said the original posting was incorrect, and the item was only meant to be discussed, not voted on. It was possible that they could have voted Thursday if they felt they had sufficient community feedback, but that wasn’t the intent.

Typically, these items are voted on at regular board meetings, and the next one will be on Jan. 12. Cruz said they will only take a vote once they feel they have an adequate amount of community feedback.

The district is required to adjust those boundaries when the census reflects a significant population shift. Houston ISD hosted several town halls where officials presented two fairly similar plans, and hoped to decide by mid-December. Both aim to return each district to within 10 percent of a predetermined ideal size of about 164,000 people.

Houston in Action, a network of over 50 organizations promoting community leadership and reducing barriers to civic participation, wrote the letter, alongside other Community Voices for Public Education, Emgage, Latinos for Education, Migrant and Refugee Leadership Academy, Institute for Civic Education, and Texas Federation of the People.

“Like you, we believe that all communities in HISD, and especially those who have historically been excluded, deserve a quality education and the ability to elect a representative who will be responsive to them,” Juan Cardoza-Oquendo, director of public policy for Houston in Action, said. “Therefore, we request that you allow the public more time to assess the draft plans. While you held town halls in your districts, few people attended them.”

[…]

“The Board published its redistricting plans online, to the best of our knowledge, less than a week ago,” Cardoza-Oquendo said. “The public needs more time to acquaint themselves with the redistricting plans and provide input.”

See here for some background. I noted at the time that I couldn’t find anything about the proposed redistricting plans on HISD’s website. I did find this page when I went looking again when I drafted this post. I didn’t see it when I first looked but it’s there as the bottom item in the dropdown menu for “Board”. They don’t have a link to it on the Board of Trustees page or the 2023 Election page, which were the first places I looked before I noticed it in the dropdown. Could definitely be better, but at least it’s there now. Perhaps ironically, I couldn’t find the cited letter on Houston in Action’s website or its Twitter page.

Anyway. All of the public meetings have been held, but apparently there was very little attendance at them. As far as I can tell, there was no mention of them in the regular emails that HISD sends out. I found one mention in an email I got from the Heights HS PTO, whose dist list I’m still on. How about another round of public meetings, with more publicity for them before they happen? That sounds like a good way to get the desired feedback needed to have the vote on the plan. What do you say, HISD?

Whitmire launches his Mayoral campaign

And we’re off.

Sen. John Whitmire

State Sen. John Whitmire formally launched his campaign for Houston mayor Tuesday evening with a fundraiser at the ritzy Post Oak Hotel, attended by dozens of the city’s political luminaries — including the hotel’s billionaire owner, Tilman Fertitta, and several other Republican mega-donors who are opening their checkbooks for Whitmire, a moderate Democrat.

With almost a year to go until next year’s Nov. 7 election, Whitmire outlined his platform and kickstarted his campaign at Tuesday’s fundraiser. The host committee is filled with prominent lobbyists, business groups, labor unions, former elected officials and a mix of donors to both political parties.

Whitmire said his campaign is motivated by his desire to solve a variety of problems that he has personally witnessed in Houston including homelessness, illegal dumping, rising crime and inefficient city services.

Among them, public safety is a driving issue for the candidate. Besides supporting law enforcement officers, he said he would also take a holistic approach to improving the criminal justice system including offering more resources to the court system and the crime lab.

“I’m not going to get into squabbles with other elected officials about what the numbers are, but the bottom line is we have a crime issue in Houston, Harris County,” he said at the fundraiser. “We are not New York or Chicago. We fix our problems.”

Whitmire said he is expecting resistance from people who do not want to see the changes that he is advocating for, including a more transparent government than how the city is currently operating.

“There are people who like the status quo. There’s people that like the city is operating because they are profiting real well. They know if I’m mayor, it’s going to be very transparent, honest and play no favors,” he said. “I want you to tell the firemen and the policemen that help is on the way. I want you to tell Houstonians that help is on the way.”

[…]

Whitmire, the longest-serving member of the Texas Senate, already has $9.5 million in his state campaign account, according to his most recent filing. He has built up his war chest over a decades-long career in the Legislature dating back to 1972, when he was elected to the state House while a senior at the University of Houston. He has served in the upper chamber since 1982.

It is not yet clear how much of the $9.5 million Whitmire can transfer to his mayoral campaign, though he is expected to start the race with a massive financial advantage over the rest of the field. Hollins reported a $1.1 million haul during the first five months of his campaign, while Edwards took in about $789,000 in a shorter span. Kaplan raised $800,000 and pitched in another $100,000 of his own money.

Nancy Sims, a longtime political consultant who now teaches political science at the University of Houston, said she had “never seen such hardcore fundraising this high and this early” in a Houston mayor’s race.

“This is going to be one very expensive mayoral campaign,” Sims said.

Boosting Whitmire’s mayoral bid are a number of donors who helped bankroll the recent campaign of Republican Alexandra del Moral Mealer, who came within two percentage points of unseating Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo in this month’s midterm election.

Mealer donors serving on the host committee for Tuesday’s fundraiser include Fertitta, Gallery Furniture owner Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale, real estate developer Richard Weekley, Fidelis Realty Partners CEO Alan Hassenflu and Houston beer distributor John Nau, among others.

Also on the host committee are several former Republican elected officials, including former state representative Dan Huberty, former city councilmember Greg Travis and two of Whitmire’s former Senate colleagues: Todd Staples, who also served as agriculture commissioner, and Kevin Eltife.

A number of Democrats, including former state representative and city councilmember Ellen Cohen and former Harris County Democratic Party chair Lane Lewis, also are on the host committee.

[…]

In the Senate, Whitmire is best known for his work on criminal justice issues, having long served as chair of the Criminal Justice Committee, even under Republican leadership.

Though his record generally aligns with those of his Democratic colleagues on other issues, Whitmire has broken with his party on a number of votes related to criminal justice. He is a longtime ally of Houston and Harris County’s police union groups, which also are on the host committee for his kickoff fundraiser.

Last year, Whitmire voted for a GOP-backed bail bill that limits the opportunity for defendants to be released on no-cost personal bonds and gives judges more information about a defendant’s criminal history when setting bail.

He also voted to amend the Texas Constitution to expand the charges under which judges could deny bail outright, extending the list to include certain violent and sexual crimes. The measure died after nearly every Democrat in the House voted against it, denying the two-thirds support needed to pass.

Whitmire’s criminal justice stances are expected to bolster his position among Republican voters and donors, including those who supported Mealer in a county judge race that focused heavily on violent crime rates in Harris County.

His views on criminal justice, and his support from GOP-aligned donors, have attracted some early backlash from Democrats, including Hollins, who noted last month on Twitter that Whitmire had not endorsed Hidalgo in the county judge’s race.

There’s a lot here and I don’t want to get too much into it right now because it’s going to be a long campaign and where candidates start out is not always indicative of where they end up. Going into a race like this, where more than one candidate is going to be broadly acceptable to me, I usually take a moment to see how I react to the campaign launches, as in what are the themes they chose to emphasize, who do I know that is or is not already on board with them, that sort of thing. See what the vibes are and how I feel about that. Let’s put a pin in that for now and come back to it after Hollins and Edwards have launched.

One thing I will make note of is this:

Fertitta, who also spoke at the event, praised Whitmire for his bipartisan perspective.

“When you look in this room tonight, you see Republicans and Democrats and you see the whole city of Houston,” he said. “John looks at things the right way and isn’t partisan when it comes to doing the right thing.”

The billionaire also faulted Mayor Sylvester Turner for not taking a stronger stance to represent the city’s interest.

“When you had a strong mayor form of government and when you are the mayor in this city, you run this city. Every single department here is yours. It is no different than running a huge company,” Fertitta said. “When Harvey happened and the state got billions and billions of dollars, Houston didn’t get any money for years. I can tell you this, if John Whitmire is our mayor, that wouldn’t have happened.”

Wait, what? Does the name “George P. Bush” mean anything to you, Tilman? This is so at odds with the facts of the matter that I’m surprised the story didn’t include a paragraph explaining the way the Land Commissioner went about distributing the federal funds and how they overtly favored smaller, more rural, definitely more Republican, areas over Houston and Harris County. Also, isn’t Mayor Turner a longtime friend and ally of Sen. Whitmire? It’s a little weird to see such a potshot being launched like that, especially at a campaign kickoff. I don’t even know what to make of it.

Anyway. This is where the 2023 Mayor’s race starts out. It will be long and loud and expensive and we’ll all be ready for it to be over in a few months’ time. What are your vibes about this going in?

A too-early look at who’s running for Houston city offices in 2023

Because it’s never not election season.

With the midterm elections behind us, city election season is now heating up. Next November, Houston will elect a new mayor, a new controller and 16 City Council members.

The campaigns actually got underway long before the midterm elections were over. State Sen. John Whitmire, the longest serving member of the Texas Senate, announced his plans to run for mayor way back in November 2021. Chris Hollins, the former Harris County clerk, announced in February, and former City Councilmember Amanda Edwards launched her campaign in March.

Those announcements, and the millions of dollars the mayoral candidates collectively have raised for their bids so far, have set Houston off on its earliest start to campaign season to date.

As the candidates start making more public appearances and vying for voters’ attention, here’s your early primer on city elections, and who is running so far:

[…]

Mayor Sylvester Turner is serving out his second and final term, which means Houston will elect a new mayor in 2023. Voters also will decide 16 spots on City Council — 11 members representing geographic districts, and five members elected citywide in at-large seats — to round out the City Hall horseshoe.

City Controller Chris Brown also is term-limited, meaning the city will have a new controller as well. The controller is the city’s independently elected financial watchdog.

Six council members face term limits, meaning their seats will be open. Ten council members are eligible for re-election and presumably running.

They have a list of the Council members who are not term-limited, as well as a list of people who claim they are running for something at this time. We’ll get some idea of who is serious and who is just a name when the January finance reports come out. From past experience, nothing is truly set in stone until the filing deadline, and we’re a long way away from that.

One more name that is out there as a potential Mayoral candidate is former Metro chair Gilbert Garcia. Don’t be surprised to hear of other names, though at this point it’s not very likely there will be any more high-profile names.

The incumbent Council members who are term limited include Dave Martin (District E), Karla Cisneros (H), Robert Gallegos (I), Mike Knox (At Large #1), David Robinson (AL #2), and Michael Kubosh (AL #3). I expect there to be a lot of At Large candidates, assuming At Large seats are still a thing next November.

There are also races for HISD and HCC boards of trustees. In HISD, Kathy Blueford-Daniels (District II), Dani Hernandez (III), Patricia Allen (IV), and Judith Cruz (VIII) are up for re-election. In HCC, the candidates whose terms are up are Reagan Flowers (Distrct 4), Robert Glaser (5), and Pretta VanDible Stallworth (9). Glaser is under accusation of sexual harassment, and as such I have to think there’s a decent chance he’ll choose not to run again. That is 100% fact-free speculation on my part, so take it for what it’s worth.

This is the situation as it stands now. As I said, we’ll know more when we see the January finance reports. If you know of someone not listed in the Chron story who’s running for something next year, please let us know in the comments.

We could maybe vote on a piece of the stupid revenue cap next year

Yippie.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner said Wednesday he will ask voters in 2023 to amend the city’s cap on property tax revenue to allow for more public safety spending, as the council cut the city’s tax rate for the eighth time in nine years to get under that limit.

Turner said he would bring language to City Council shortly to put the measure on the November 2023 ballot, after At-Large Councilmember Michael Kubosh expressed concern about how the city will be able to afford the increasing police and fire budgets with strained resources.

“If there is strong sentiment on this council to at least allow the voters to decide, well, let’s put it this way: I’m willing to put it before you and then allow the voters to make that decision,” Turner said. “I will put it before you to be placed on the November ballot of next year.”

City Council voted unanimously to cut its property tax rate by about 3 percent, moving from 55.08 cents to 53.36 cents per $100 in valuation. The city accounts for about 20 to 25 percent of a standard Houston property tax bill, with about half going to the local school district.

The city’s cap on property taxes limits the growth in revenue to a formula that combines inflation and population increases, or 4.5 percent, whichever is lower. The city hit the former mark this year, as is standard.

Houston first hit the cap in the 2015 fiscal year, and its tax rate since has fallen about 16 percent, down from 63.88 cents per $100. The city has missed out on about $1.5 billion in revenue as a result of those cuts, according to Turner’s administration. The owner of the median Houston home in that time has saved about $946, or about $105 per year.

[…]

Voters tweaked the cap in 2006 to allow the city to raise an additional $90 million in revenue for public safety spending. It was not immediately clear whether the ballot language Turner is proposing would increase that number or seek to carve out public safety spending entirely. The police and fire departments account for $1.5 billion in spending in the city’s current budget.

You know how I feel about revenue caps. At least this will give all those who rail against “defunding the police” the opportunity to put their money where their mouths are. I expect there will be at least one lawsuit filed over this regardless, and given what we’ve seen with other litigation it will still be ongoing in 2033.

What do we expect from CD23?

It was the perennial razor-close high-dollar swing district all last decade. Will Hurd won it three times, but never reached 50% in any of the three elections. It moved a few points towards the GOP in 2020 when Tony Gonzales won it, and redistricting made it a bit redder still, but it remains the closest Republican-held seat and may never fade as a perennial battleground. But that may depend on this year, when Gonzalez will have an easier time of it at least financially. I don’t know yet what I expect from that race.

Gonzales remains the favorite for a second term — given the new political makeup of the district and his stark financial advantage — but he said he is taking the race “extremely seriously” and treating it like he was still running under the famously competitive boundaries that were in effect before redistricting.

“The [elected officials] that don’t have to fight, that are just there as long as they want it — they’re like declawed indoor cats that get fancy meals when the bell rings out,” Gonzales said in an interview. “I think Texas [District] 23 — you’re like an alleycat that has to scrape and claw and fight for everything, and I think that just makes you just different. Like, you’re fighting for your life.”

This cycle, Gonzales said, he wants to “run up the score” and “take this seat off the table completely.”

A former Navy cryptologist, Gonzales won the seat in 2020 by 4 percentage points, a wide margin by the razor-thin standards of the 23rd District. He was the successor backed by U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-Helotes, a moderate who had built his own reputation for breaking with his party, perhaps most notably opposing former President Donald Trump’s push for a border wall.

Trump carried the 23rd District by 2 points in 2020. But redistricting morphed it into a district that Trump would have won by 7 points, and in March, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee officially removed the seat from its list of targeted races.

[Democratic candidate John] Lira argued redistricting “didn’t do Gonzales that many favors,” noting the Cook Political Report, an election forecaster, only increased the Republican advantage of the district by 3 percentage points. And he said he is encouraged by the cracks in Gonzales’ Republican support, the political fallout from the Uvalde shooting and the strength of Beto O’Rourke’s gubernatorial campaign at the top of the ticket.

As for the case against Gonzales, Lira said, “he’s got Will Hurd’s playbook in his back pocket and he’s trying to see how he can play both sides.”

While national attention has faded from the race, Lira recently got the backing of O’Rourke, who rarely issues formal down-ballot endorsements. Lira also has the support of the political arm of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, which endorsed him after the district was redrawn.

[…]

“I do think the district is going to be a little more competitive than most people anticipated — now how competitive, I don’t know,” said Jeff McManus, chair of the Bexar County GOP. “We sort of have a three-way race going,” with the independent challenger from the right.

McManus said he wishes Gonzales “were a stronger conservative.” The two were on opposite sides of the county party chair election in May, when Gonzales backed the incumbent, John Austin, that McManus defeated.

The independent candidate is Frank Lopez Jr., a former U.S. Border Patrol agent who had to give up his position as chair of the Val Verde County GOP to run. He and Gonzales are very familiar with one another: Lopez was the campaign manager for Raul Reyes, Gonzales’ bitter rival in the 2020 Republican primary runoff for the 23rd District.

Lopez said he ran as an independent, not in the GOP primary, after seeing “the way Raul lost” at the hands of the party’s establishment, which had coalesced behind Gonzales.

“Texans are tired of these dangerous Democrat policies,” Lopez said in an interview, “but they’re also tired of the pandering and games from the RINOs, establishment and globalists in the Republican Party. I had to give Texans a true choice.”

Lopez added that he sees a “perfect storm” for his candidacy, citing the recent intraparty blowback Gonzales has faced and Democrats he meets who say they are looking for a new political home.

Gonzales jokingly asked “Who?” when asked about Lopez in an interview. More seriously, he said the 23rd District has always had a third candidate in November who gets 3% to 5% of the vote and that he expected Lopez would be no different. Still, he said he is not taking Lopez for granted and that it “helps me stay sharp.”

Most of the rest of the story is about Gonzales’ votes in favor of the Cornyn gun control bill and the House bill to protect same-sex marriage, both of which has drawn him some criticism and two censure votes from aggrieved county GOPs (a third, in Bexar County, failed to pass). Good for him and all, but that’s not what I’m here to talk about. I’m here for the numbers.

For what it’s worth, Trump carried CD23 by seven points in 2020. The next two closest districts are both Dem-held (CD15, Trump +3; CD28, Biden +7), and after that it’s all double digits, with CDs 24 (Trump +12), 03 (Trump +14), 22 (Trump +16), 26 (Trump +18), and 38 (Trump +18) next in line. The main difference between CD23 and these other districts is that the latter all moved strongly towards Dems since 2012, with Mitt Romney carrying them by 38 to 44 points. It would not shock me if Beto does about as well in CDs 03 and 24 as he does in CD23. I don’t think Gonzales is going to achieve his goal of taking CD23 off the table, but I could easily see him winning by 10-12 points and discouraging any serious competition in the near term future. I could also see him winning by about the seven points that Trump won it by and remaining in the same position. He has some big advantages, but this is officially a Very Weird Year, and I’m not making any predictions about it. Long term I think this district remains on the radar, but maybe not at the front of the pack. We’ll see.

On resign to run

The TL;dr version of this is “No one ever said the Elections Code was fair”.

John Whitmire’s plans have been clear since November: He is running for re-election to the state Senate, and he also is running for mayor.

If all goes according to his plan, Whitmire will serve out his final legislative session in the Senate in 2023, turn his attention to campaigning for City Hall in the summer and win a new job in November or December.

City officials in Houston, though, do not have the same luxury, and it is creating political hurdles this year for ambitious council members looking for new jobs — especially those that may want to take City Hall’s top office.

Texas has a resign-to-run law meant to discourage officials from holding one office while running for another. The law dates back to a 1958 constitutional amendment, purportedly aimed at ensuring elected officials concentrate their attention on the job they already have and do not run campaigns while on the taxpayers’ dime.

The state applies the rule only to certain county and city officials, though, and not to those who serve in Austin. That is why Whitmire can, essentially, run for two jobs at the same time. Legislators have run for just about every job in the state while keeping their posts.

Lawmakers have amended the constitutional provision underlying the rule several times over the last couple decades. None of those changes added state officials to the mix.

“They never applied the logic to themselves,” said Nancy Sims, a longtime political consultant who now teaches at the University of Houston.

The story notes that this has only been an issue for Houston City Council members since 2016, following the referendum that altered the term limits ordinance and changing Council terms from two years to four. It also notices the outlier fundraising of CM Ed Pollard, who if he is a Mayoral candidate would have to step down. I confess, I had forgotten about the new application of resign-to-run in discussing Pollard’s potential plans; it is certainly more complicated for him now. Maybe he’ll keep piling up the cash and then challenge whoever gets elected next year in 2027, when he’d only be giving up the last year or so of his second term. I’m just speculating wildly here. Anyway, the state constitution specifies who has to resign to run for something else and who doesn’t, it’s highly unlikely that will ever change to apply to legislators, and that’s just the way it is.

July 2022 campaign finance reports: City of Houston

We’re still more than a year out from the 2023 election, but we are now up to three serious conteners for Mayor, plus two others in the wild, so the finance reports are beginning to generate some real interest. The January 2022 reports are here, the July 2021 reports are here.


Candidate     Raised      Spent     Loan     On Hand
====================================================
Turner       209,950    129,870        0     802,194

Peck          19,100     19,457    5,000      24,057
Jackson       17,400     11,330        0      33,436
Kamin         86,461     14,691        0     193,807
E-Shabazz      8,000      5,591        0      17,691
Martin         2,500     18,138        0     151,767
Thomas         5,750      2,887        0      51,761
Huffman       45,350     45,284        0      30,697
Cisneros      13,500      1,164        0      38,094
Gallegos      27,050     14,126        0     127,933
Pollard      286,341     11,800   40,000     716,441
C-Tatum       51,950     16,089        0     154,697

Knox          18,425     10,266        0      37,185
Robinson      67,675     17,595        0     247,700
Kubosh        14,000     31,141  196,000      59,273
Plummer                   6,417    8,175      33,010
Alcorn        38,305     17,321        0     178,429

Brown            500      4,849   75,000      34,861

Hollins    1,123,316    138,079        0     941,155
Edwards      789,227     96,378        0     712,066

As a reminder, no links to individual reports here because the city’s system generates PDF downloads, and I don’t have the time to rename and upload and share them. Next year, when there are candidates, I’ll do that. Not this time.

All of the current officeholders submitted reports in a timely fashion this period. The only oddity was with the report for CM Letitia Plummer, which did not list an amount raised on either the summary or section totals pages. She clearly did raise some money, as a perusal of the rest of the report shows, but didn’t include a total for it anywhere. I didn’t feel like tallying it up myself, so I left the mystery in place. The only non-officeholders of interest to file reports are the two 2023 Mayoral candidates listed at the bottom, who made a decent splash with their unprecedented totals for this point in the cycle. While he did not file a city of Houston report yet, and while there is some uncertainty about how much he can move from his state account, Sen. John Whitmire had $9.7 million on hand as of July 15. Even if he can only transfer, say, 25% of that, it’s a lot of cash to start out with.

We must once again talk about the finance report for Ed Pollard, who I will say again must be planning something for his future because there is absolutely no need for this level of fundraising for his re-election campaign in District J. I had speculated that maybe he was aiming for a Mayoral campaign, but at this point that seems less likely – I can’t rule it out, but there’s already a big field of well-financed players, and Pollard would be the least known and tied for least-funded among them. Maybe next time, or maybe something in 2024? Or maybe he just really likes fundraising? Who knows.

Other than that, honestly kind of a boring set of reports. Things should start to get more interesting with the January 2023 reports – if nothing else, I’d expect to see a few new names. I’ll skip the HISD and HCC reports this cycle so look for those next January as well. I’ll round up a few state reports of interest for next time. Let me know what you think.

Hollins and Edwards report big Mayoral fundraising numbers

Yes, we’re going to need to start paying attention to this.

Chris Hollins

Houston’s next mayoral election is not for another 18 months, but the early contenders already are raising heaps of cash.

Former Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins has taken in more than $1.1 million in the first five months of his bid, according to data his campaign released Thursday. And former City Councilmember Amanda Edwards has raised about $780,000 since launching her candidacy on March 23, her campaign announced.

Both of those numbers far exceed what City Hall contenders historically have reported this far out from the election, as the November 2023 campaigns get off to an early start.

Five candidates already have announced their campaigns to succeed Mayor Sylvester Turner when his second term ends in January 2024: Hollins, Edwards, state Sen. John Whitmire, attorney Lee Kaplan and police officer Robin Williams.

Despite the strong fundraising starts from Hollins and Edwards, Whitmire will be the financial heavyweight in the race. The state senator, who has served in the Texas Legislature since 1973, has a war chest of more than $9.7 million in his state account, according to his latest filing.

When Turner made the jump from the Legislature to a mayoral campaign, he was allowed to transfer $900,000 of his funds, even though an opponent argued it was forbidden by city ordinance. City attorneys said at the time that Turner could transfer the first $5,000 from each donation to comply with the city’s more stringent cap on contributions. It is not yet clear exactly how much Whitmire will be able to transfer when he launches his mayoral campaign officially, likely this fall.

Amanda Edwards

Finance reports for declared candidates are due Friday and cover the first six months of this year. Williams and Kaplan have not publicly disclosed fundraising numbers yet.

[…]

The numbers set a new bar for fundraising this early. At this stage in the 2015 race, then-state Rep. Sylvester Turner reported raising $166,600 in donations and had $366,351 in the bank, although he had yet to formally declare his mayoral candidacy. Hollins has raised more money so far this year than Turner reported in all of 2014: $824,000, according to the mayor’s state filings at the time. Turner later would begin his mayoral candidacy in 2015 with $900,000 that he transferred from his state account.

Among other candidates that year, former Kemah Mayor Bill King and then-Sheriff Adrian Garcia did not report any contributions in July 2014, and had not announced candidacies at that point. The black-out ordinance still was in place at that point, and Garcia was barred from transferring his county account. Then-City Councilmember Stephen Costello reported $215,600 in contributions, with about $308,325 on hand. Each of those candidates would break the million-dollar threshold in the actual election year.

Eighteen months before his re-election, Turner reported $585,000 in contributions, though he had a campaign account of $2.2 million at that point. He broke the million-dollar threshold in both January and July 2019, and raised $1.7 million in the month between the 2019 general and runoff elections.

I will of course have a post on the city of Houston finance reports for July, along with those for Congress and Harris County and probably some state races. It’s going to be a busy weekend. Also, Adrian Garcia could not have announced any fundraising numbers for Mayor in 2014 because he was still Sheriff, and had to resign as Sheriff as soon as he announced his candidacy. That happened in early 2015. I knew that Mayor Turner had transferred money from his state account to his city campaign, but I’d forgotten what constraints he had. I suspect that Sen. Whitmire will still be able to move a fair amount of his existing treasury, and will have no trouble raising more. How much, we may soon see.

Chron story on the proposed new City Council map

Remember, you heard it here first.

Houston’s proposed City Council maps for 2023 elections make only minor changes to district boundaries near Rice University, Freedmen’s Town and parts of downtown.

Overall, less than 3% of Houston’s 2.3 million residents will change districts under the proposal, which is designed to balance district populations based on 2020 Census data, while complying with city requirements and the Voting Rights Act, according to City Demographer Jerry Wood.

By law, none of the 11 districts should vary by more than 10 percent from the average district population of approximately 209,000 residents. This means that Houston’s three most populous districts – Districts C, D and G – will lose some of their lands. Meanwhile, Districts H, I and J will need to expand.

“Unlike redistricting for legislative districts, there’s a lot more identification with a neighborhood that the civic leaders have and also the relationship that they establish with their council members,” Wood said. “So the desire is to create as little disruption as possible.”

[…]

In recent months, the public has repeatedly requested the city to keep super neighborhoods together, Wood said, something that demographers did not have in mind when initially dividing up the population.

The proposal managed to move Braeburn, a super neighborhood on the southwest side, into a single district and bring together most of Eastex – Jensen, one in north Houston. But Wood said he was not able to unite Greater Heights in north central or South Belt on the southeast side.

“Sometimes there are requests that simply are impossible,” Wood said.

The city has hired a law firm in anticipation of legal challenges. For one, the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), one of the largest Hispanic civil rights organizations in the country, has promised to sue the city over what its advocates characterize as a gross underrepresentation of Latinos on the City Council.

The lawsuit hopes to replace the city’s five at-large seats, which represent voters citywide, with single-member seats, which cover a certain geographical area. Sergio Lira, a Houston-based leader with LULAC, said his team is on track to file the lawsuit later this month.

“We anticipated that there would not be any major changes to the maps this time and that the city was not going to disrupt things too much,” Lira said. “It’s going to take a lawsuit in order to change the system.”

See here for my post on the new map, along with the schedule for public hearings, and here for my post about the promise of a lawsuit to ditch the At Large Council seats. Several cities have moved partly or fully away from At Large Council systems to all-district or hybrid systems in recent years, some with more of a fuss about it than others – Austin, Pasadena, Irving, Farmers Branch. It’s hard to say how litigation on this matter might go in this current climate, but on the other hand if the city lost in a federal district court it’s not clear to me that they’d pursue an appeal. This is an excellent place to get caught making dumb predictions, so I’ll stop myself before I go too far. I’ll wait and see what happens when LULAC files their complaint. In the meantime, attend one of those hearings if this interests you.

January 2022 campaign finance reports: HCC

Previously: City of Houston, HISD

If HISD campaign finance reports are less sexy than city of Houston finance reports, then HCC finance reports are like HISD finance reports wearing thermal underwear. Nevertheless, we persist.

Monica Flores Richart – Dist 1
Adriana Tamez – Dist 3
Reagan Flowers – Dist 4
Robert Glaser – Dist 5
Dave Wilson – Dist 6
Cynthia Lenton-Gary – Dist 7
Eva Loredo – Dist 8
Pretta VanDible Stallworth – Dist 9


Dist  Candidate     Raised      Spent     Loan     On Hand
==========================================================
1       Richart          0          0        0       2,608
3         Tamez      9,775     15,040        0      12,641
4       Flowers      8,561     18,440        0       2,985
5        Glaser          0          0    4,000       8,292
6        Wilson          0     14,879        0           0
7   Lenton-Gary          0          0        0           0
8        Loredo     10,589      6,418    7,000       8,520
9    Stallworth          0          0        0           0

The July 2021 reports are here, and the 30 day reports for November are here. As you might expect, all the action comes from the trustees who were on the ballot in November.

Dave Wilson sigh is now listed in the HCC campaign finance reports system as “David Wilson”, which I’m pretty sure is new. I’d say for sure, but there are no past reports for him that I can find, even though he’d been a trustee before and has been a candidate for trustee many times. Every other incumbent has every single finance report for their time in office available through this interface, but not Wilson. I don’t know if this is because of a quirk in their reporting system that can’t handle trustee with discontinuous service time or if they just forgot that he used to be there. Either way this is all we get.

As is usually the case, Wilson doesn’t raise money, he just spends whatever he spends out of personal funds. He has normal looking expenditures for mail, yard signs, advertising, and campaign consulting. I guess because he was technically unopposed, he didn’t have to dip into his usual bag of tricks.

I didn’t spend much time looking at the other reports. About $15K of Reagan Flowers’ expenditures was a transfer to her state campaign account. Perhaps she’ll move some funds back now if she has them left over; we’ll see that in the next July report if so.

The next finance reports of interest will be for the special election in District 2 in May. I’ll check on those at the 30 day point. I will also have interviews with the candidates in that race the week after next.

January 2022 campaign finance reports: HISD

Previously: City of Houston

HISD campaign finance reports are almost always less sexy than city of Houston reports, but we just had some expensive races last year, so let’s see where all the current Trustees are with their finances.

Elizabeth Santos – Dist I
Kathy Blueford-Daniels – Dist II
Dani Hernandez – Dist III
Patricia Allen – Dist IV
Sue Deigaard – Dist V
Kendall Baker – Dist VI
Bridget Wade – Dist VII
Judith Cruz – Dist VIII
Myrna Guidry – Dist IX


Dist  Candidate     Raised      Spent     Loan     On Hand
==========================================================
I     Santos        23,404     10,202        0         192
II    B-Daniels          0         59    2,000         132
III   Hernandez          0          0        0       2,192
IV    Allen              0          0        0           0
V     Deigaard       2,712     59,870        0      12,189
VI    Baker          2,100      2,000      208           0
VII   Wade           6,192     10,818    7,000       3,130
VIII  Cruz               0        460        0         686
IX    Guidry         6,805      9,046    5,500       2,256

Here are the July 2021 reports, and the 8 day reports from the general election. I didn’t post reports from the runoffs. For candidates not on the November 2021 ballot (Kathy Blueford-Daniels, Dani Hernandez, Patricia Allen, and Judith Cruz, these reports cover the last six months of 2021. It’s not surprising that they weren’t raising money during this time. For Myrna Guidry, who won in November without a runoff, this report should cover the period from the 8-day report in late October through the end of the year, but looking at it I can see that it includes contributions from August through October. It also lists a $2K in kind contribution of “polling expenses” from Rep. Alma Allen, but on her Subtotals page she has both that amount and the $6,805 that she has as her overall total listed as just cash contributions. Someone needed to review this report before it was submitted. For the other four, it covers the period from the 8-day runoff report in December through the end of the year.

Santos’ report obviously stands out here, but the vast majority of the amount raised was actually in-kind contributions, mostly in the form of mail and GOTV efforts on her behalf, and mostly from the Texas AFL-CIO and Sylvia Garcia campaigns. Just under $2K of that total were cash donations. Kendall Baker gave $1K to himself and also received $1K from the campaign fund of County Commissioner Tom Ramsey. Bridget Wade was also a recipient of Commissioner Ramsey’s generosity, to the tune of $2,500.

Sue Deigaard spent her money on mailers (about $24K), phonebanking ($10K), digital ads ($7,500), a newspaper ad ($2K) and texting ($1,500). There were also multiple expenditures ranging from $80 to $950 attributed to “blockwalking” that I didn’t bother adding up. I’m now moderately curious about what the unsuccessful candidates reported on their final form, but the houstonisd.org’s 2021 Election page appears to have been archived, so I’m not able to find the reports for non-incumbents now. Not a huge deal, I was just wondering, but it is a little annoying to not see that data now.

Not much else to report here. I’ll take a look at the HCC reports next, which will be equally not very exciting, and we’ll be caught up for now.

Amanda Edwards to run for Mayor

The field is now at three.

Amanda Edwards

Amanda Edwards, a former at-large member of Houston City Council and candidate for U.S. Senate, announced Wednesday she is running for mayor of Houston in 2023.

Edwards’ return to politics comes two years after her fifth-place finish in the 2020 Democratic Senate primary. She previously had served a single term as one of Houston’s five citywide council members, before passing up a second term to run for Senate.

With Edwards’ announcement, there now are three major candidates vying next year to succeed Mayor Sylvester Turner, who cannot run again due to term limits. Edwards, who would be the first Black woman to lead Houston city government, said her experience at City Hall sets her apart from the other two candidates, former Harris County clerk Chris Hollins and state Sen. John Whitmire, both of whom, like Edwards, are Democrats and attorneys.

“There are complicated issues that are facing the next mayor. The easy stuff, that was done many years ago,” Edwards said. “It’s the hard stuff that’s left, and you’ve got to have somebody at the helm on Day One that is ready to lead and knows how to navigate the city and all of its challenges and opportunities that may be in front of us.”

During her four-year tenure on Houston City Council, Edwards served as vice chair of the council’s Budget and Fiscal Affairs Committee and helped direct a task force focused on boosting the city’s tech and startup economy.

She proposed amendments to the annual city budget — one of the few levers of power for council members under Houston’s strong-mayor form of government — that sought to speed up the permitting process, expand internet access for low-income communities and improve conditions for women- and minority-owned businesses.

As mayor, Edwards said she would focus on “cultivating opportunity for everyone,” including businesses owned by women and minorities, who she said face “great disparities when they’re trying to access traditional forms of capital” to grow their businesses.

I thought Edwards would be an obvious contender for Mayor back when she was a Council member, for a variety of reasons – she was young and had a strong showing in her first election, did well raising money, would be term-limited at the same time as Mayor Turner, had plenty of opportunity to make things happen on Council, and so on. She chose a different path, declining to run for re-election before entering the Democratic primary for US Senate in 2020, where she raised a respectable but not impressive amount of money and finished a disappointing fifth place in that large field. Even when she was a candidate for Senate I still thought she might wind up running for Mayor. And so here we are. (You can also see what a genius I was at predicting the future.)

Whatever route she took to get here, she’s here now. As I’ve said many times, we’ll have a better handle on how her candidacy, or anyone’s, is doing when we see the first batch of campaign finance reports. Money isn’t everything, but at least early on it’s a decent proxy for how much interest there is in a particular contender, and where that interest is coming from. Right now we have three candidates with varied backgrounds and experiences, and they’re out there introducing themselves to the wider audience that they’ll need to appeal to. It’s likely that field will grow, so making a good impression now while there’s less competition is of great value. There’s a lot happening right now, and we should all rank the 2022 election ahead of the 2023 one, but do keep an eye on these people, as one of them could be our next Mayor. Edwards’ intro video is here. I wish her luck. The Trib and the Texas Signal have more.

January 2022 campaign finance reports: City of Houston

January finance reports are always worth a look, if only as a ritual to start the new year. We’re a year out from election season truly beginning for Houston, but as we now have two brand name contenders for Mayor already, we should check in and see how our current electeds are doing in the fundraising department. I last looked at these reports in July of 2021. Let’s see what folks have been up to since then.


Candidate     Raised      Spent     Loan     On Hand
====================================================
Turner       311,976    156,329        0     723,455

Peck          25,620     13,989    5,000      27,442
Jackson        2,775      8,725        0      27,367
Kamin         14,620      7,824        0     124,434
E-Shabazz      8,440     13,625        0      15,282
Martin        56,350     32,011        0     162,311
Thomas        
Huffman       21,550     24,921        0      27,040
Cisneros       9,495      2,033        0      25,758
Gallegos      50,355     16,218        0     114,905
Pollard      151,275     12,946   40,000     441,900
C-Tatum       10,000      8,576        0     118,827

Knox          13,385      5,227        0      17,884
Robinson      50,595     11,758        0     189,134
Kubosh        33,200     31,914  196,000      73,174
Plummer       14,191     22,440        0      25,473
Alcorn       153,700     26,652        0     158,067

Brown          3,000      6,067   75,000      38,887

As a reminder, no links to individual reports here because the city’s system generates PDF downloads, and I don’t have the time to rename and upload and share them. Next year, when there are candidates, I’ll do that. Not this time.

Mayor Turner is the biggest recipient of campaign cash, which is usually how it is. He won’t be on the 2023 ballot, but we will have at least two charter referenda in our future, and I’m sure he’ll want to be able to have some influence over them. As was the case with Mayor Parker and term limits in 2015, he might want to add one or two more to that list, on policy matters that have been discussed but not yet addressed. I’m thinking of the stupid revenue cap, and a second try at an equal rights ordinance, this time for the charter. I have no special insight on these matters, just a long memory and a searchable archive, both of which I endeavor to use for good and not evil.

The fact that we have two high-profile Mayoral candidates in place (well, as much as one can be at this early hour) doesn’t mean that there aren’t other potential Mayorals out there. Last time I noted CM Ed Pollard’s prodigious fundraising, in which he amassed an amount that far outstripped his possible need for re-election in his district, and noted that he has been on some people’s lips as a possible candidate for Mayor. His January finance report does nothing to turn that speculation down, though also as noted before he may have his eye on some other prizes as well.

On the other end of that spectrum is the one person I had felt most confident about as a 2023 Mayoral candidate, and that’s City Controller Chris Brown, who seemed a natural fit for the Mayoral candidate role and who has demonstrated fundraising prowess in the past. Not these past six months, though, and his cash on hand total is looking awfully paltry. Does that mean anything? It’s too early to say. But now that John Whitmire and Chris Hollins are out there doing Mayoral candidate things, the time to decide whether or not one wants to join them in that is not far off. Michael Kubosh, who is currently doing Michael Kubosh things, falls in between the two of them in fundraising action. He’ll be facing the same decision as well.

A person who turned it up several notches after a sedate second half of 2021 is CM Sallie Alcorn, who was a top fundraiser for her initial election and now seems to be preparing for her second race. Note that in recent years, the old “blackout” period for fundraising was eliminated, so incumbents can get a head start on building up their treasuries. Fewer of them have need to do that now, as about half of them are term-limited. Some of those term-limited folks will be leaving with a decent amount of cash in their kitties – I’m thinking Dave Martin, Robert Gallegos, and David Robinson. It’s not clear to me what if any office they might use those funds for in the future – maybe one of them has an eye on Controller – but they have them if they want them.

Not much else of note. Greg Travis is now filing state reports, so he’s been swapped out for Mary Nan Huffman, who still has a few bucks in her account. I did not find a report for Tiffany Thomas. I’ll do HISD and HCC next to finish this off. Let me know what you think.

Chris Hollins to run for Mayor

Wow.

Chris Hollins

Chris Hollins, the former Harris County elections chief who pushed measures aimed at expanding ballot access during the November 2020 election, announced Monday that he’s running for Houston mayor in 2023.

“The challenges that we’re facing as Houstonians are becoming more and more complex,” Hollins, 35, said in an interview with The Texas Tribune. “And to overcome those challenges, that job demands innovation, that job demands effective leadership. And so we need a mayor who has a vision for Houston, but who also has the skills and attributes necessary to achieve that vision.”

Hollins, a Texas Democratic Party official who temporarily served as Harris County clerk in 2020, rose to prominence two years ago by championing efforts intended to make it easier for people to vote during the pandemic, including 24-hour drive-thru voting and a bid to send applications for mail-in ballots to more than 2 million registered voters in Harris County.

Those efforts drew a legal battle and a decisive rebuke from state Republican lawmakers, who passed a sweeping voting restrictions bill last year that outlawed the measures Hollins put in place.

Now, Hollins is looking to use his brief seven-month tenure as county clerk to catapult him into the mayor’s office — where he would oversee a $5.1 billion budget and 23,000 municipal employees. He’s running to replace Mayor Sylvester Turner, who will step down next year after serving two four-year terms; the city has term limits that prevent him from running again.

Hollins is the second major candidate to announce for mayor, following state Sen. John Whitmire, a longtime Houston Democrat with deep ties to the city’s police and fire unions and an $11 million war chest.

Well, the 2023 Mayor’s race just got a lot more exciting. I interviewed Hollins after the 2020 election and asked him (among other things) about the Republican reaction to his innovations, which they very much did follow through on. I imagine all of that will come up again, so get ready for it. There are other potential candidates out there, and given the early announcements by these two potentially quite formidable contenders, we may either get more of the same in the coming weeks, as no one will want to fall behind in the fundraising race, or we may find that the well of hopefuls has dried up a bit.

I don’t normally like to get ahead of one election with another, but to some extent that can’t be helped. Whatever my personal preferences are, we’re going to be hearing a lot about this race going forward. It’s a pretty sharp move on Hollins’ part because it sort of puts Sen. Whitmire, who has pledged to give his full attention to his 2022 race and the 2023 legislative session before he begins campaigning in earnest for Mayor, in a box. Whitmire probably doesn’t want to ignore Hollins, but at least over the next few weeks he can’t do all that much either or he’ll provide evidence for one of the main criticisms that Molly Cook, his primary opponent, has made against him. Even beyond that, he’s made his pledge about his order of operations and his priorities. That’s harder for him to do now.

We’ll see how it goes. By the same token, Hollins likely doesn’t want to divert too much attention from the very important 2022 election, so perhaps this is a smaller problem for Whitmire than it may appear. Whatever the case, as I said above, this race is a lot more interesting now. The Chron has more.

HCC will have an election to fill its vacancy

So much for an appointment.

Re: HCC Board of Trustees District II Position

Residents of District II and the Community At-Large:

The Houston Community College (HCC) Board of Trustees remains committed to serving the best interest of the entire community. This commitment extends to our students, faculty, staff, and equally to each and every district that comprises the HCC service area.

During the course of the past few months, the HCC governing board has had the responsibility of navigating challenging circumstances which directly impact District II and its residents. In fact, these unforeseen circumstances impact the entire HCC district and call upon us as a governing board to act prudently in a manner that best serves our community, while meeting the legal and policy requirements available to us.

Notably, the events surrounding the District II position have been distressing for many in District II, the HCC community, and for the HCC governing board. However, we will overcome this difficulty by working together in service to our remarkably diverse community.

To advance this important matter, the law provides for an election to fill the District II trustee position in May 2022. This anticipated election empowers the people of District II to choose their desired trustee and once elected, that individual will begin service on the HCC Board of Trustees. Until a new trustee is seated, we invite the District II community to apprise us of any concerns, questions and needs that may arise.

We greatly appreciate all the residents of District II and your patience throughout this process. We will continue to diligently work – in partnership – with the community to ensure that we all emerge from this situation stronger.

See here and here for the background. The message was signed by Dr. Cynthia Lenton-Gary, the new Board Chair. I don’t know why they were unable to find a suitable person to appoint to the position, which has been the normal course of action, but here we are. The election has not yet been set – I presume that will happen at the next Board meeting – but as noted before, it will be the only election run by Harris County on the uniform election date in May, which is Saturday, May 7. The primary runoff date is Tuesday, May 24, so you lucky duckies in HCC District 2 will get to vote twice in May. The lucky ducky who wins that election will then have to run again in 2023 get to serve through the end of what would have been Skillern-Jones’ term, through 2025. I’ll let you know when there’s more.

Sen. Whitmire will run for Mayor in 2023

Big announcement.

Sen. John Whitmire

State Sen. John Whitmire, the longest serving member of the Texas Senate, told supporters at a campaign rally Wednesday that he intends to run for mayor of Houston in 2023.

“I’m no longer considering it, we’re not asking people, we’re running for mayor and we intend to win,” Whitmire told supporters in a video later posted to Twitter by journalist Jose de Jesus Ortiz. “We’re planning to win with your help.”

Whitmire long has been rumored to be interested in the seat, but the remarks make him the first candidate to publicly declare he is running for the office to succeed Mayor Sylvester Turner.

He intends to run for re-election to the Senate in 2022, serve in the 2023 legislative session, and then run for mayor in the November 2023 municipal election.

Whitmire told the Chronicle Thursday he is focused on the Senate for now.

“I shared with supporters my plans for future,” Whitmire said. “There will be official public announcement at future date… But it’s no secret I plan to run for mayor.”

[…]

Whitmire, a Democrat, has represented Houston in the Texas Legislature since 1973, first as a state representative and then in the Senate beginning in 1983.

He has an $11 million campaign war chest, which alone would make him a formidable candidate in a city election. No city official currently has more than Turner’s $522,058 in the bank.

I at least became aware of those rumors back in May. I will just say that Sen. Whitmire’s proposed schedule for 2022 and 2023 sounds awfully busy, and may or may not be practical depending on what other candidates do. There are a number of other potential candidates out there, and I will be interested to see how they react. Whitmire will be a formidable contender, but we’re a long way off from November of 2023. As I usually say in these instances, let’s get through the next elections first. Campos, who knew this was coming, and the ,Trib have more.

The charter referendum will be in 2023

So be it.

The organizations and residents who petitioned the city to give City Council members more power will have to wait until 2023 to vote on the measure, after the council declined to put it on this year’s ballot.

Council voted unanimously to set the election in 2023 instead of this November, despite the objections of several council members and the groups that pushed for the charter amendment. An amendment to put it on this year’s ballot failed, 13-4, before the 2023 vote. Councilmembers Amy Peck, Ed Pollard, Mike Knox and Michael Kubosh supported the earlier date.

The measure would give any three council members the power to place an item on the weekly City Hall agenda, a power almost entirely reserved for the mayor under Houston’s strong-mayor format.

Mayor Sylvester Turner, who opposes the measure, said pushing off the election was prudent so the city could include other pending charter amendments, which would lower the cost by hosting one election instead of several. He also argued an off-cycle election would have low turnout.

“If any of you have problems getting something on the agenda, I’d like to hear that,” Turner told council members. “So, we’re going to spend $1.3 million in a very low-turnout (election) on an issue that doesn’t really pertain to this council?”

[…]

At-Large Councilmember Michael Kubosh likened a delay to voter suppression, a suggestion that irked several of his colleagues. He referred to Democrats in the Legislature who fled to Washington, D.C. to stop a voting restrictions bill.

“If we don’t vote to put this on the ballot, we are doing the same thing (as the Legislature): We are suppressing the vote,” Kubosh said. “I believe voting delayed is voting denied.”

District F Councilmember Tiffany Thomas said he deserved a “Golden Globe for drama,” arguing the later election date would improve access to the polls by encouraging higher turnout.

Kubosh said it does not matter whether officials like the content of the charter amendment; their duty is to put it on the ballot.

I’ve said before that I believe this referendum, as well as the firefighters’ referendum (the petitions have not yet been certified, which is another issue altogether), should be on this November’s ballot. I do think the right thing to do is to be prompt about these things, even though the law allows for the discretion to put the vote on the next city election. But CM Thomas has a point, which is simply that at least twice as many people and maybe more will vote in 2023 than in 2021, and as such having this referendum in 2023 will be closer to a true reflection of the public will. I mean, even with a heavy GOTV effort by the pro- and anti- sides this year, we might be looking at 100K in turnout. Turnout in 2015, the last time we had an open Mayor’s race, was over 270K, and turnout in 2019 was 250K. Turnout in all of Harris County in 2017, with no city of Houston races, was 150K; I can’t calculate the exact city component of that, but based on other years it would have been in the 90-110K range. There’s just no comparison. Is the tradeoff in turnout worth the two-year delay? People can certainly disagree about that, and I sympathize with those who wanted it this year. But putting it in 2023 is legal, and can be justified.

(No, I still have no intention of voting for the “three Council members can put an item on the agenda” referendum. Its proponents may have a point, but their proposition is still a bad idea. I remain undecided on the firefighters’ item.)

July 2021 campaign finance reports: City of Houston

PREVIOUSLY: Congress, Harris County

As we know, this is not an election year for city of Houston offices. That usually makes for a pretty dull summary of finance reports, since it’s just incumbents and about half of them are term-limited and thus not really motivated to do much. But I had last checked on these in January 2020, which was the conclusion of the 2019 election cycle, and I didn’t want to wait till next year for a first look. And you never know what you might find.


Candidate     Raised      Spent     Loan     On Hand
====================================================
Turner       185,055     76,357        0     522,058
Peck          14,915     10,892    5,000      18,072
Jackson       19,700     14,126        0      33,317
Kamin         79,860     10,697        0     115,828
E-Shabazz     36,000     19,879        0      20,468
Martin             0      3,473        0     130,577
Thomas        
Travis        34,950      5,886   21,000      76,500
Cisneros       1,000        456        0      18,296
Gallegos       2,075      8,620        0      77,372
Pollard      280,908     11,371   40,000     303,572
C-Tatum       58,718      6,847        0     117,013
Knox          11,685      4,571        0      16,510
Robinson      58,983     16,085        0     149,046
Kubosh        60,910     24,318  206,010      65,667
Plummer       30,770      6,417    8,175      33,010
Alcorn         3,200      5,251        0      31,013
Brown         24,550      3,892   75,000      19,281

Edwards            0      2,580        0      45,081

Sorry, no links to individual reports this time – the city of Houston’s reporting system spits out downloaded PDFs, which I have to rename and upload to Google Drive to be able to provide links for them, and it ain’t worth the effort at this point. I’ll do that in 2023, when things heat up.

One of these things is not like the others. I’ve been asking folks who they think will run for Mayor in 2023, partly to see how my own speculations have turned out. One name that has come up a lot is that of Ed Pollard, the first-term Council member in District J. Let’s just say his July report does nothing to temper that kind of talk. To put it mildly, one does not need $300K to run for re-election in a low-turnout district like J, and that’s more than two years out from the actual election. Pollard may have his eye on something else, of course – he ran for HD137 in 2016, and who knows what opportunities the next round of redistricting may present – but if one is being mentioned when the question of “who is thinking about running for Mayor” comes up, this is the kind of finance report that supports such talk.

Other names that come up when I bring up the question include Michael Kubosh, Chris Brown, and Amanda Edwards. Neither of the first two has raised all that much, though they both have the capability. Kubosh has knocked $60K off his loan total, which may have contributed to his lower cash-on-hand total. As for Edwards, she’s the opposite of Pollard at this point.

The one person who has been openly talked about as a candidate – by someone other than me, anyway – is Sen. John Whitmire, who has enough cash in his treasury to not sweat the small stuff. He recently announced his intent to run for re-election in 2022, which is completely unsurprising and not in conflict with any 2023 speculation. Mayor Turner ran for and won re-election in HD139 in 2014 before officially beginning his Mayoral campaign in 2015.

Beyond that, not a whole lot to report. Mayor Turner has some money on hand if he wants to influence a charter amendment or two. CM Tiffany Thomas did not have a report that I could find – sometimes, the system is a little wonky that way. The only other number of note was for term-limited CM David Robinson, who has added over $100K to his cash on hand since last January. Maybe that’s a sign that he has his eye on another race, and maybe that just means that some people are good at fundraising. I’ll leave that to you. Next up, HISD and HCC. Let me know what you think.

Mayor Whitmire 2.0?

Buried in this story about the recent departure of HPD Chief Art Acevedo for Miami is the following tidbit:

Sen. John Whitmire

Houston insiders knew that the 56-year-old Acevedo had been considering a mayoral run once Sylvester Turner reached his term limit in 2024. But as Acevedo started prospecting for supporters, the response wasn’t good. Despite public grandstanding after George Floyd’s death—posing for photo ops with local protesters, changing his Twitter profile image to one of Floyd, granting countless TV interviews—his support in the Black community was thin, owing at least partly to ongoing animosity toward the HPD’s record on policing minority communities. Houston politicos also told me that the Mexican American community was lukewarm at best on the Cuban American police chief.

Even stranger, Acevedo’s support among non-Hispanic white Houstonians risked fracture. The police chief had made a gentleman’s agreement with John Whitmire, dean of the Texas Senate, not to run against him, should the Houston lawmaker seek the mayor’s office, as has been speculated. “Art and I are the best of friends, and he and I agreed months ago that we both wouldn’t be in the race,” said Whitmire, who conceded that, while he will run for reelection to the state Senate in 2022, he has been exploring a mayoral run.

I had neither Chief Acevedo nor Sen. Whitmire on my speculative list of 2023 Mayoral candidates. I’m actually a little more surprised to see Whitmire’s name in that story than I am to see Acevedo’s, if only because it’s hard to imagine the Texas Senate without Whitmire. On the other hand, it can’t be any fun to serve as a Democrat with Dan Patrick holding the gavel – there’s a reason why Rodney Ellis took the first chance to bail out for the seat on Commissioners Court – and the prospect of being the big fish who can actually get stuff done has to have a lot of appeal. As Campos notes, Whitmire already has a crap-ton of money, and the list of establishment politicians and civic leaders who would put their name on a list of his supporters is already multiple pages long. Whitmire would (largely) clear the field in a way that no one else could. If he wants to do this, he’d start out as the favorite.

Whether he would, and whether he should, are different questions. If Dems can finally break through at the statewide level in 2022, especially if they can beat Patrick, that might make staying in the Senate a lot more appealing, even as a member of the minority. Houston has a number of tough long-term challenges, and if the Senate continues to be an inhospitable place those challenges will be greater since the Legislature is much more interested in sticking it to the big cities than in helping them in any way. Whitmire may prevent some other potential candidates from entering the race against him, but he hasn’t had a real electoral challenge in a long time, and city politics are a lot different than state politics. Mayor of Houston is a powerful and prestigious job, but I guarantee it’s a lot harder and a much bigger time commitment than any state political gig. This is not a decision to be made lightly, that’s all I’m saying.

For what it’s worth, from my privileged position of armchair quarterback, I would like to see someone who sees themselves as a future statewide candidate be the next Mayor of Houston (*). Mayor of Houston would be a pretty good springboard to a statewide candidacy, and we’re going to need as deep a bench as we can get as statewide races become truly competitive. I specifically mentioned Sen. Carol Alvarado in this context when I came up with my theoretical candidates list last year, and I stand by that. Other people on my list – Amanda Edwards, Abbie Kamin, Chris Brown – also fit that bill, and one name suggested to me afterward who also would fit it is Michael Skelly. Nobody who is thinking about running for Mayor now has any reason to care about that, but I’m a blogger so it falls to me.

Anyway. We knew Mayor Turner was seriously running in 2015 well in advance, and I suspect we’ll know what Sen. Whitmire is thinking early on as well. In case you were wondering, by the way, Sen. Whitmire is the former brother-in-law of Mayor Kathy Whitmire; she is the widow of his brother. John Whitmire would make a very strong Mayoral candidate if he chooses to run. We’ll see what he decides.

(*) If you really want to think long-term, the next person elected Mayor will most likely serve through 2031. John Cornyn’s Senate seat will be on the ballot in 2032, and the next Governor’s race would be in 2034. One could mount a statewide campaign while halfway through one’s first term in the 2026 election, though I would not advise it, or one could run either as a one-term Mayor or midway through one’s second term in 2030. Sen. Whitmire is currently 71 years old.

Recount ends in CD23

The Republicans finally have a candidate to defend their most vulnerable Congressional seat in Texas.

The recount of the Republican primary runoff for the national battleground seat of retiring U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-Helotes, has reached an end, and Tony Gonzales remains the winner.

Raul Reyes, who finished 45 votes behind Gonzales in the July 14 runoff, announced Friday evening that he was abandoning the recount.

“Without a sizable shift in the vote margin after a recount in the most populous parts of the district I have decided to end the recount,” Reyes said in a news release, thanking his supporters for their “blood, sweat and tears.”

Reyes’ campaign said seven of the largest counties in the district had been recounted, and while he narrowed his deficit to 39 votes, it was “not enough to justify continuing with the counting of ballots.” A Texas GOP spokesperson confirmed that was the current recount margin but said it had not yet received an official withdrawal request from Reyes.

While the massive district has 29 counties, the seven counties referenced by the Reyes campaign made up over 80% of the vote on election night.

Gonzales is now set to be the undisputed nominee for the seat, one of Democrats’ best pickup opportunities across the country. The Democratic nominee for the seat, Gina Ortiz Jones, won her primary in March and went 171 days without a clear GOP opponent.

[…]

On Friday night, Jones’ campaign released a memo that noted her big head start but insisted it is “taking nothing for granted,” noting things like the fact it is already airing its second TV ad of the general election. The memo argued that after a contentious runoff, Gonzales would be “defined” by his affiliation with Trump, who lost the district in 2016, and views on health care.

See here for the background. I received a copy of that memo, and I’ve put it beneath the fold for your perusal. Let’s just say that I have high expectations for Gina Ortiz Jones, and I consider picking up CD23 to be the barest of minimum gains for Dems this cycle. Finally, always remember that Raul Reyes was the candidate who got Ted Cruz’s endorsement, while Gonzales was endorsed by Donald Trump. I’m sure you’re already humming the sad trombone sound. On to November!

(more…)

Who might run for Mayor in 2023?

Mayor Sylvester Turner

So Election 2019 is (modulo District B) safely in the books, and Sylvester Turner is in office for his second and final term. In years past at this time I’d be taking a look ahead at the next city election – who’s termed out, who could be vulnerable, who might be priming for a run, etc – but with the next election not until 2023 that seems like a stretch. We can start thinking about who might throw their hat into the ring for Mayor, however. The field in 2015 was quite large, and I’d expect something similar in 2023. Houston Mayor is a prime gig, and it doesn’t come open very often.

I’m going to run down a list of names that seem like potential contenders. I want to stress that this list is entirely the product of my imagination. I have no inside knowledge of anyone’s intentions, and I make no warranty on any of these claims. I’m just thinking out loud. So with that in mind…

Chris Brown – He’s the current City Controller, he’s won twice citywide (which among other things means he’ll be term-limited and thus would need to run for something else, if he wants to stay in city elected office), he’s a strong fundraiser, he’s got a long history in city politics. Annise Parker and Kathy Whitmire were both Controllers before they were Mayors. He does have a bit of baggage, and his win over Orlando Sanchez was not by much, but if there’s one person on this list who would surprise me by not running, it would be Chris Brown.

State Sen. Carol Alvarado – Served three terms as Council member in District I and was Bill White’s Mayor Pro Tem before winning election to the Lege in 2008, and continues to be involved with city issues as a legislator. If she has statewide ambitions – and as a young Senator looking at a Democratic-trending state, she should – Mayor of Houston would enable her to run from a bigger base. Legislators have been elected Mayor in various cities recently, including Dee Margo (El Paso), Eric Johnson (Dallas), and of course Mayor Turner. As an incumbent, she’d be in a strong position to build up a campaign treasury in advance of running, as Turner did in 2015. The main negative here is the old story of Latinos having a hard time winning citywide elections, but someone is going to break through, and being a veteran establishment Democratic elected official is a good way to get there.

Amanda Edwards – OK, sure, she’s running for US Senate now, but so are multiple other viable candidates, only one of whom can survive the primary, never mind the uphill battle that would follow. While she would certainly prefer to be well into her first term in Washington, it’s hardly crazy or insulting to say she might be available for this race. She was an At Large Council member, one who I thought would have been in a decent position to run for Mayor this year anyway before she changed course, with a strong fundraising history. Running statewide, especially for a federal office, is a great way to vastly expand your donor base. She may well be done with city politics regardless of what happens this year, but I’d be remiss if I left her off this list.

State Rep. Sarah Davis and State Rep. Jim Murphy – Both are incumbent Republican State Reps, and I’m lumping them together here. Davis has a decent chance of losing this year, and while Murphy will be a favorite to win in 2020, he may find himself in the House minority, and decide it’s not to his liking. Houston is a Democratic city, but as establishment, business-friendly, moderate-by-modern-GOP-standards Republicans, you could imagine one of them at least making it to a runoff in the way Bill King did in 2015, and if things broke right, they could win. As with everyone else on this list they can raise plenty of money, and if Texas is still run by Republicans in 2023 they could argue that they’re better positioned to defend our local autonomy better than any Dem running.

Abbie Kamin – I know, she was just elected to District C, and incumbent Council members don’t have a strong track record in Mayoral races (Dwight Boykins, Steve Costello, Peter Brown, Orlando Sanchez, Chris Bell, Helen Huey, Gracie Saenz…you get the point), but in both the November and December races her performance was impressive, she was one of the best fundraisers of the cycle, and having District C as your base is a pretty good jumping off point, especially in a multi-candidate field where the goal is to make it to round 2. Like I said, this is just me thinking out loud.

Orlando Sanchez – Yeah, him again. You just know he’s going to keep running for things. He has name recognition, he did better than expected in losing to Chris Brown, and hey, the third time was the charm for Sylvester Turner. Why not Orlando?

The field – Not every Mayoral contender is visible from a distance. Every recent competitive race has featured at least one wealthy non-politician type, some more successful than others (Bob Lanier, Bill White, Rob Mosbacher, Gene Locke, Ben Hall, Bill King, that guy from 2019). I’ll be surprised if 2023 is an exception, but I have no idea who that person may be at this time. Similarly, every competitive race has had at least one strong black candidate, and if Amanda Edwards sits it out, someone else will step up. One or more people that no one is thinking of now will be on the radar in 2023. Ask me again in a couple of years and we’ll see who that might be.

That’s my list. Who would you add?