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December 8th, 2008:

Sharp is in for Senate, whenever that is

We don’t know when – or, indeed, even if – Kay Bailey Hutchison will resign her seat in the Senate. It’s conceivable that she could remain in the Senate while campaigning against Rick Perry in the GOP primary for Governor, lost that primary, then decide she doesn’t want to retire from the Senate after all. Or she could just stick it out through 2012. At some point, between November of 2009 and November of 2012, there will be an election for her Senate seat. And whenever that election will be, former Comptroller and two-time candidate for Lt. Gov. John Sharp says he’ll be in the running.

Sharp, who lost for lieutenant governor in 1998 and 2002, said: “I will be a candidate whether the election is in 2012 or any time before then. Texans face tough challenges that call for innovative solutions, and that’s what our campaign is all about.”

He said he will create a campaign committee with the state on Jan. 1 to begin raising money and campaigning.

No one has said so, but I suspect Sharp acted today to dissuade Houston Mayor Bill White from declaring his own aspirations for the Senate. White is widely expected to air his political plans soon–and speculation has centered on his leaping for governor or the Senate.

Sharp’s sudden public declaration, after months spent privately telling Democrats he intends to seek the Senate seat, practically dares White to set himself up for a Sharp showdown. Alternatively, it encourages White to lean toward a run for governor.

All I know right now is that somebody had damn well better run for Governor, because I don’t think it’s a lock KBH gets the nomination, and I’ll be sick to death of Rick Perry lucks into a free pass or a lightweight opponent. I figure if anyone is going to blink here it’ll be Sharp, but since I’m rooting for White to run for Governor, I guess I ought to hope I’m wrong about that. And I suppose now that he’s an actual declared candidate for something, I should quit making jokes about him being mentioned as a possible candidate for every office under the sun.

The financial crisis and the Astrodome Hotel

Financial crunch may stall effort on Astrodome hotel. Boy, nobody could have seen that one coming.

Before the financial markets tightened, Astrodome Redevelopment Co. was prepared to put up $150 million in equity — much coming in the form of historic tax credits given for preserving the iconic building once known as the Eighth Wonder of the World.

But the company likely will be required to raise as much as $225 million in equity because loan standards have become stricter during the credit crunch, said Astrodome Redevelopment president Scott Hanson.

“It’s clearly more difficult to get credit at this stage,” Hanson said.


Edgar Colon, chairman of the Harris County Sports and Convention Corp., which oversees Reliant Park, said progress continues to be made, and he is hopeful that Texans and rodeo’s concerns can be addressed.

The county will let those discussions continue until the end of March before deciding whether an impasse has been reached, he said.

So we have a new deadline, of sorts. I’m not sure how much that means any more, given how long this has dragged on. At last report, the Texans and the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo had easied their opposition a bit to the Astrodome Hotel concept, for which a lease agreement had been reached in May. Also still out there is the Astrodome as movie studio, which presumably would also be affected by the credit crunch.

The Dome is hardly a top-notch facility these days. It was closed in July after the Houston Fire Marshal’s Office found that its sprinkler system lacked enough water pressure and cited the building for nine code violations.

SMG-Reliant Park, which manages the complex, and other Reliant Park companies moved more than 40 employees out of offices at the Dome, and it has been sitting empty since.

No events will be held in the Dome at the upcoming rodeo because of its building code violations, said rodeo chief operating officer Leroy Shafer.

On the bright side, maybe that means it’s costing less to maintain the Dome, since presumably the air conditioning hasn’t been turned on since then. Gotta find your positives where you can these days.

A look ahead to 2010 in Harris County

I’ve spent some time recently talking about what might happen – more accurately, what I’d like to see happen – in 2010 at the state level. In this post, I’d like to contemplate what might happen locally.

It’s clear that the Harris County GOP is looking ahead with an attitude that without Obama on the top of the ticket, they’ll be in much better shape. I think that’s blinkered for a number of reasons, not the least of which being that Obama wasn’t always an asset to the Dems, not to mention the Republican Party’s image problems, but never mind that. On some level, I agree, in the sense that without someone at the top of the ticket to generate interest among Democratic voters, and without some kind of organized GOTV effort, there could be a step backwards, perhaps a big step backwards, for them. Let’s assume that 2010 isn’t a replay of 2006 in that sense, and go from there.

The Bettencourt resignation changes the landscape from where it was a week ago. I think it’s clear that whoever gets the nod to replace him will be a top target, perhaps the top target, in two years. If it’s a Republican, I hope Diane Trautman takes another shot at it. If it’s a Democrat, hopefully Trautman, then I expect there to be a contested Republican primary to take her on. Beyond that, we’ll have to wait and see who the replacement is.

The next question is whether or not County Judge Ed Emmett gets a serious challenge. After surviving the onslaught this year thanks in large part to voter approval of the job he did during Hurricane Ike, I think Emmett is a favorite to win re-election under most scenarios, barring some scandal emerging. I don’t know (and I have not asked) if David Mincberg is up for a rematch, but if I had to bet I’d say no at this point. Beyond that, I have no idea. It would not surprise me if Emmett skates, though if the partisan shift continues I’d expect that to be a one-time-only event, as potential challengers look to 2014, when having the D next to their name might be enough.

If Emmett goes literally or figuratively unopposed, the next highest-profile local race will be for County Clerk, where current City Council Member Sue Lovell has been looking at a challenge to incumbent Beverly Kaufman. Expect to hear a long and contentious airing of the faults of the eSlate machines in this scenario. Lovell is a hard worker and a tough fighter, but as we saw last year she’s got some enemies. All this makes for a potentially fascinating matchup.

Newly-elected District Clerk Loren Jackson will be one of a handful of Democrats defending their seats for a full term; the others are judges like Robert Hinojosa and Kathy Stone. I’m sure he’ll draw an opponent, but unless the Dems take that big step backwards, I feel confident about his chances.

Last and least is Orlando “Just what exactly does he do all day?” Sanchez, our beloved Harris County Treasurer. I don’t know if Richard Garcia will take another crack at him on an abolish-the-office platform, or if someone else will take a slightly less esoteric approach, since this looks a lot more like a winnable office now. I just know I will delight in voting his sorry ass off the public dime.

As for the judges – and there are many more benches up for election in 2010 than there were this year – who knows? Again, barring the big step aback I expect the Democratic slate to do well here, and there are a couple of names I’ll be watching closely to see if they finally do fall. Of greater interest to me now is whether or not there will be another committee like there was this year, to screen and recommend (or un-recommend) various candidates for different jobs. As that committee started life with a mission of recruitment, I feel confident in saying its original mission is no longer needed. How many contested primaries will there be, and how many of them will produce oddball results? We’ll know sooner than you think.

For legislative races, I’ve already said that I expect HDs 133 and 144 to be the top battles. The Dems make take a shot at a couple of other seats, like HD138, but I’ll be surprised if there’s much money in any races besides those two. If Chris Bell wins the SD17 runoff, I expect the Republicans to take a big swing at him; if Joan Huffman wins, I’m less sanguine about the Dems taking another shot at it, on the grounds that if you can’t win with a candidate like Bell in a year like this, you probably can’t win. The same type of thinking will likely mean no serious challenges in CDs 07 and 22; I think CD10 is more likely to be challenged, but that’s just a guess.

One last race to contemplate: Given his legal issues, it seems likely that County Commissioner Jerry Eversole is serving his last term in Precinct 4. If so, that will surely mean a hotly contested Republican primary to replace him, with the possibility of some other seats opening up as existing officeholders seek to climb the ladder. I would hope the Dems field a decent candidate here as well. Precinct 4 isn’t quite the opportunity for Dems that Precinct 3 is likely to be when it opens up, but how can you resist? For what it’s worth, Jim Sharp got a bit less than 39% in Precinct 4 in 2006; I don’t have the data for 2008, as the precincts aren’t the same. Whatever the numbers are, though, it’s an open County Commissioners Court seat. How can you resist?

It may be that Eversole steps aside, or is pushed aside, before then. If so, there would be an appointed replacement on the ballot instead. I’ve heard that HD138 Rep. Dwayne Bohac wants the job. Regardless of the situation, I hope the Dems find and fund a serious contender. And if it is Bohac, I expect that would add HD138 to the list of seriously-challenged seats. Either way, I see it as a great opportunity.

That’s what I see at this time. What do you think?

King for Council?

Previously, I had noted a report that potential Mayoral candidate Bill King was thinking about dropping out of that race. Now it looks like he’s contemplating a different race.

Bill King, once talked about as a definite mayoral candidate, may now be leaning toward a city council seat. Not only is he nervous about the city’s fiscal health, but he told me today that he’s getting behind-the-scenes “pushback” for not living in Houston long enough.

The former Kemah mayor and councilman moved to Houston full time three years ago.

“There is some thought that you need to earn your stripes for a little bit before you can become mayor,” King said.

King says that’s not entirely fair, because for 15 years he’s maintained homes both in Houston and Kemah. He was Kemah’s mayor from 2001 to 2005.

Fair or not, I dunno how well saying “My second home has been in Houston for years” would go over on the campaign trail. It should also be noted that the City of Houston is pretty darned Democratic these days, so a relatively unknown Republican might not fare so well in a race that already features at least two prominent Dems. Make of that what you will. If he’s in for a Council seat, King joins Noel Freeman in that regard.

Speaking of Council, Marc Campos has been bemoaning the fact that once Adrian Garcia is sworn in as Harris County Sheriff, James Rodriguez will be the only Latino on Council, pending the outcome of the special election in May to replace Garcia in District H. He notes that in 1996 there were four Latino members on Council. What I note is that two of them – Gracie Saenz and Orlando Sanchez – were elected At Large. Which leads me to this Dos Centavos post, in which Stace notes that “Latino and Latina candidates that are willing to take the leap and run “at-large” are few and far between–even locally.”

Which made me curious. So I looked through the City of Houston election archives from 1997 onward to see how many Latino candidates had run in one of the citywide races – At Large Council, City Controller, or Mayor. Here’s my list, with minor and perennial candidates edited out:

Roy Morales – 2007, 2005
Joe Trevino – 2007
Poli Acosta – 2005
Gabe Vasquez – 2003
Orlando Sanchez – 2003, 2001, 1999*, 1997*
Sylvia Garcia – 2001*, 1999*, 1997*
Andres Pereira – 1999
Gracie Saenz – 1997

Asterisks indicate winning candidates. That’s eight people, in a total of 14 races (out of 42 possible), over six elections. (Morales also ran in the 2007 special election to fill At Large #3 after Shelley Sekula Gibbs resigned to be Congresswoman For A Day.) Half of those races were run by Orlando Sanchez and Sylvia Garcia. Seems to me that’s not a whole lot of leap-taking. Will this next election be any different?

Gen. Shinseki to head Veterans Affairs

While I’m sorry that Rick Noriega will not get the job as Secretary of Veterans Affairs, I certainly can’t argue with the selection of Gen. Eric Shinseki, who has displayed remarkable courage and foresight throughout his career. I’m glad to hear that Noriega is still in the running for several other possibilities – FEMA, anyone? – and I congratulate Gen. Shinseki on his new gig.

Another UH-Downtown renaming update

UH-Downtown, which has been pursuing a new name and a more distinctive identity, is getting closer to making a decision.

Leaders have proposed changing the name to give the 34-year-old university a stronger identity, saying too many people think it is a satellite of the University of Houston, rather than a stand-alone campus with its own ambitions.

Longtime president Max Castillo will step down next year, leaving whoever is named to succeed him with all the promise and problems of a school designed to help educate the state’s growing population of lower-income, minority students.


A new name could better reflect what the university offers and the students it serves, Castillo said.

The main campus is downtown, but it also offers classes through Lone Star College in Kingwood and Cy-Fair.

The UH governing board last summer authorized the school to explore a new name. A board committee will consider the options Friday, with a full vote possible the following week.

Among the suggestions: City University of Houston, Houston Metropolitan University, Southeast Texas State University and Hobby State University, a nod to the Hobby family’s contributions to education.

A new name would help people to distinguish between UH-Downtown and the main campus, especially as UH pushes to improve its national ranking, said Madeline Johnson, a marketing professor at UH-Downtown.

Given that the Directional State convention seems to be falling out of favor these days, if those are my choices I’d probably pick Houston Metropolitan University. What do you think?