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October 29th, 2009:

Early voting: One more day

Tomorrow is the last day of early voting. If you haven’t voted by 7 PM on Friday, you’ll need to show up at your precinct polling location on Tuesday to have a say in this election. Here’s a press release from County Clerk Beverly Kaufman with some information about how things will be on Tuesday:

Harris County Clerk Beverly Kaufman announced today that 728 polls will be open and ready to receive registered voters on Tuesday, Nov. 3, General Election Day, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. According to the Clerk, 6,600 pieces of election equipment will be allocated throughout the county and almost 5,000 election clerks will be working during this election.

“The election infrastructure is set. I strongly encourage registered voters who did not vote during the early voting period to consider doing so on Election Day”, said Clerk Kaufman, the chief elections officer of the County. “This election cycle may not be as captivating as a national election, but it may be more important.”

During the upcoming Harris County Joint Election 120 individuals will be vying for 40 positions in political subdivisions within County. Of those, sixty-two are candidates for City of Houston public office, including the positions of mayor, controller and city council. Overall, there a total of 60 contests on the ballot. Of those, 20 are propositions. The most prominent contests are the State constitutional amendments.

“Voters should be aware that anytime an election includes statewide propositions those items will appear first on the ballot. In this instance, it means that all voters, whether they reside in Houston or other political subdivisions, will see the 11 state propositions at the top of their ballot before they see anything else.”

The County Clerk reminded voters that the law provides that a voter can ONLY vote in contests offered by a political subdivision which is connected to the physical address in which a voter is registered to vote. To find out which political subdivisions are connected to a voter’s address, a voter may visit the following link on the Tax Assessor Collectors website: http://www.hctax.net/ASP/streetguide/frameset.asp. An individual may also check voter registration status with the Tax office by calling 713. 368. 2200 or by visiting http://www.tax.co.harris.tx.us/Voter/voter.aspx.

The Clerk also reminded voter to know where they are going to vote before leaving their homes on Election Day. The law provides that on Election Day a voter must vote at the poll where the precinct the voter is registered to vote is voting. For voter identification purposes at the poll, registered voters are urged to take at least ONE of the following acceptable documents:

1. A voter registration certificate;

2. a driver’s license or personal identification card issued to the voter by the Department of Public Safety or a similar document issued to the voter by an agency of another state, regardless of whether the license or card has expired;

3. a form of identification containing the voter’s photograph that establishes the voter’s identity;

4. a birth certificate or other document confirming birth that is admissible in a court of law and establishes the voter’s identity;

5. United States citizenship papers issued to the voter;

6. a United States passport issued to the voter;

7. official mail addressed to the voter, by name, from a governmental entity;

8. A copy of a current utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck, or other government document that shows the voter’s name and address.

For more Election Day information voters may visit www.harrisvotes.com and click ‘Find Election Day Poll and View Voter Specific Ballot.’ Voters may also call 713.755.6965, Harris County’s automated election information line.

And we now have the early voting totals from today, in which 8722 showed up to vote. The good news is that this was the best day so far, slightly better than yesterday. The bad news is that this total trailed its counterpart from 2003 by over 3000 ballots. I don’t expect tomorrow to be anything like the 18,000+ votes that were cast on the final day of early voting in 2003, but even with the predicted rain there probably will be more than 70,000 in-person votes cast, or somewhere in the neighborhood of 5000 fewer than 2003. Where this year has really lagged is in mail ballots – 7200 so far, versus over 14,000 at this point then, and over 17,000 total. I don’t know what that bodes for final turnout, but I’ll be thinking about it and will make my guess sometime after the final numbers are in. In the meantime, if you haven’t voted yet, please do so soon. Thanks very much.

Don’t mess with Bill

As everyone expected, Mayor White has stayed the heck out of the race to replace him. So it’s a pretty big deal when he feels compelled to speak up about something that is happening in the race.

Mayor Bill White […] injected himself into the race for the first time to fact-check a mailer City Councilman Peter Brown sent out criticizing his opponents. The mail piece accuses City Controller Annise Parker of missing reporting deadlines for annual audits and “significant deficiencies” that left “Houston’s financial security at risk.”

“The city has not been put at financial risk,” White said in an e-mail released by Parker’s campaign. The mayor, who is term-limited and has not endorsed a candidate, added that the delays in the audits were caused by the implementation of new financial accounting software.

“The Controller is not responsible for these delays and the reasons for delays were discussed openly at City Council meetings with some frequency,” the e-mail says.

You can see the mailer in question here, a copy of Mayor White’s email to Controller Parker here, and Parker’s rebuttal to Brown’s charges here. I have to say, I’ve generally admired the campaign Brown has run, but this was bush league. I find demagoguery about taxes to be tiresome in general, but especially in this election when everyone agrees the city has financial difficulties now and ahead of it, everyone has plans to do stuff that will cost money – things like flood abatement, for instance, which everyone agrees is a big priority – and no one has a plan to pay for any of it besides cutting “waste”, finding efficiencies, and hoping to bring new businesses to town. I find the claim about Houston having a $1.5 billion operating deficit to be mostly crankery, but even if it’s not, it’s not something that just cropped up in the last few months. A two-term member of Council could have been speaking about about that problem for quite some time if it were such a concern. I personally thought the trash pickup fee was an idea worth pursuing. In case it’s not clear, I don’t find much merit in the claims Brown is making in his mailer.

One more thing from the story:

Burt Keller, a former city councilman who supports Locke, said that while some people are quick to criticize negative campaigning, it often is the most efficient way to distinguish between candidates. Voters, he said, are not always as put off as one might think.

“It’s what they expect,” he said. “It’s just like football or boxing. People who watch it like seeing people get tackled, or in boxing, they like watching people get hit in the face.”

If nothing else, attacks force you to really decide whether you like a candidate or not. It’s a lot harder to have vague feelings about a candidate when he or she is under attack, or attacking someone else. Nothing turns a soft supporter into a passionate one faster than a belief that his or her preferred candidate is being unfairly maligned.

Spending on voter outreach: The Mayorals

I didn’t take a look at the Mayoral candidates’ expenditures on voter outreach in the 30 days out reports, as this exercise is rather time consuming, but I figured I’d have a look at the 8 day reports, just to see what we’ve got going into the home stretch.

Candidate Amount Purpose ============================================================ Annise Parker 9,365.91 Research (Celinda Lake) Annise Parker 500.00 Phone bank Annise Parker 175,000.00 Media buy (Rindy Miller) Annise Parker 75,000.00 Media buy (Rindy Miller) Annise Parker 60,000.00 Media buy (Rindy Miller) Annise Parker 3,000.00 Phone bank Annise Parker 5,000.00 Ad (Tx Conservative Review) Annise Parker 60,000.00 Media buy (Rindy Miller) Annise Parker 1,750.00 Phone bank Annise Parker 3,000.00 Phone bank Annise Parker 780.30 Ad (KCOH) Annise Parker 1,789.25 Ad (KROI & KMQJ) Annise Parker 40,000.00 Media buy (Rindy Miller)

Parker reported a bit over $500K in spending on this form, after having reported $738K spent on the 30 days form. $410K of this spending, more than 80%, is on TV. I saw two media buys from Rindy Miller in the 30 days form, worth $500K; there may have been more, but that form was 414 pages long, and I just did a search on “Rindy” to spot-check it. I assume the “Research” entry is for her recent poll. Those radio buys are small compared to Locke and Brown, but since she’s not engaged in an authenticity contest as they are, perhaps they’ll have a greater effect. Parker was one of many candidates who placed an ad in Gary Polland’s Texas Conservative Review; my understanding is that this is for a printed document that will be mailed to some number of households. As all of the others I’ve seen so far with this expense have been Republicans, I presume Parker will tout her fiscal conservative credentials and leave it at that.

Candidate Amount Purpose ============================================================ Gene Locke 28.89 Ad (Facebook) Gene Locke 29.00 Ad (Facebook) Gene Locke 25,000.00 Media production (Dixon/Davis) Gene Locke 2,000.00 Media production (Ttweak) Gene Locke 225.75 Ad (Houston Forward Times) Gene Locke 677.25 Ad (Houston Forward Times) Gene Locke 1,102.50 Ad (Houston Defender) Gene Locke 29.00 Ad (Facebook) Gene Locke 29.00 Ad (Facebook) Gene Locke 20,319.00 Printing Gene Locke 2,281.68 Robocalls Gene Locke 6,000.00 Video production (Ttweak) Gene Locke 29.00 Ad (Facebook) Gene Locke 5,000.00 Ad (Tx Conservative Review) Gene Locke 4,300.00 Ad (Houston Style Magazine) Gene Locke 50,160.00 Field consulting/management Gene Locke 95,670.00 Field consulting/management Gene Locke 54,862.50 Media/cable (Adelante) Gene Locke 10,649.50 Media/radio (Adelante) Gene Locke 13,584.05 Media/radio (Adelante) Gene Locke 15,747.20 Media/radio (Adelante) Gene Locke 165,770.25 Media/TV (Adelante) Gene Locke 6,300.00 Media/newspaper (Adelante) Gene Locke 250.00 Ad (Linda Lorelle scholarship fund) Gene Locke 100.00 Ad (KEW Learning Academy) Gene Locke 29.00 Ad (Facebook) Gene Locke 29.00 Ad (Facebook) Gene Locke 1,500.00 Ad (The Houston Sun) Gene Locke 903.00 Ad (Houston Forward Times) Gene Locke 1,102.50 Ad (Houston Defender) Gene Locke 1,755.00 Ad (African-American News & Issues) Gene Locke 29.00 Ad (Facebook) Gene Locke 36,641.50 Media/cable (Adelante) Gene Locke 22,858.65 Media/radio (Adelante) Gene Locke 139,953.00 Media/TV (Adelante) Gene Locke 29.00 Ad (Facebook) Gene Locke 27,005.00 Door hangers Gene Locke 17,721.40 Printing Gene Locke 2,295.30 Robocalls Gene Locke 5,177.10 Research (Stanford Campaigns) Gene Locke 29.00 Ad (Facebook) Gene Locke 29.00 Ad (Facebook) Gene Locke 38,251.50 Media/cable (Adelante) Gene Locke 2,625.00 Media/radio (Adelante) Gene Locke 14,474.98 Media/radio (Adelante) Gene Locke 162,966.00 Media/TV (Adelante) Gene Locke 29.00 Ad (Facebook) Gene Locke 29.00 Ad (Facebook) Gene Locke 11,853.40 Printing Gene Locke 29.00 Ad (Facebook) Gene Locke 49.00 Ad (Involver.com) Gene Locke 29.00 Ad (Facebook) Gene Locke 17,799.00 Media production (Dixon/Davis) Gene Locke 2,749.80 Robocalls Gene Locke 34.37 Web ad (Domino's Pizza) Gene Locke 23,500.00 Polling Gene Locke 2,205.00 Ad (Houston Defender) Gene Locke 46,800.00 Media/radio (Adelante) Gene Locke 5,725.56 Door hangers Gene Locke 16,235.00 Door hangers Gene Locke 36,120.80 Printing Gene Locke 800.00 Ad (NAACP - Houston) Gene Locke 125.00 Ad (South Wesley AMEC)

Clearly, Locke is leaving no stone unturned. Everything from Facebook to African-American newspapers (no doubt to boost his standing in the community) to TV and radio. Bear in mind that some of that money spent on TV was for ads that ran much earlier in the month; we knew about them before the 30 day reports came out, but the expenditure wasn’t listed in that report. As such, while Locke outspent Parker on TV in this report, she has spent more than him overall. Adelante, which I believe is campaign manager Christian Archer’s outfit, is big on field work/GOTV, which is how one can wind up buying nearly $50,000 worth of door hangers. There were many, many entries relating to paid field workers, which I skipped to maintain my sanity and stave off carpal tunnel syndrome for another day. Other candidates up and down the ballot have similar entries, though not nearly as many; Parker is a notable exception to this, as she’s putting her money into media and is relying on an extensive volunteer network for GOTV activities. We knew Locke was doing polls, even if we never get see any of them. Oh, and Ttweak, of course, are the folks that brought us Houston, It’s Worth It. I give Team Locke style points for hiring them in whatever capacity.

Candidate Amount Purpose ============================================================ Peter Brown 1,214.17 Printed materials Peter Brown 36,675.00 Media buy (Foston International) Peter Brown 43,601.00 Consulting (American Mail Direct) Peter Brown 251,027.00 Media buy (Buying Time, LLC) Peter Brown 888.99 Printed materials Peter Brown 1,742.82 Printed materials Peter Brown 75,120.00 Media buy (Buying Time, LLC) Peter Brown 5,800.00 Consulting (American Mail Direct) Peter Brown 82,225.00 Consulting (American Mail Direct) Peter Brown 449,527.00 Media buy (Buying Time, LLC) Peter Brown 9,949.43 Production (Buying Time, LLC) Peter Brown 27,438.89 Media buy (Foston International) Peter Brown 500.00 Text messaging service Peter Brown 59,213.00 Consulting (American Mail Direct) Peter Brown 449,682.00 Media buy (Buying Time, LLC) Peter Brown 9,125.99 Production (Buying Time, LLC) Peter Brown 42,338.00 Consulting (American Mail Direct) Peter Brown 2,553.00 Printed materials Peter Brown 5,000.00 Media buy (Neuman & Co) Peter Brown 126,485.92 Consulting (Neuman & Co) Peter Brown 4,558.60 Media buy (Foston International) Peter Brown 451,527.00 Media buy (Buying Time, LLC) Peter Brown 117,964.00 Consulting (American Mail Direct) Peter Brown 5,953.75 Printed materials

Behold the Peter Brown media empire. The man has a fortune at his disposal, and by God he used it. The disclosure form listed over $2.4 million in expenses, which is to say nearly five times what Parker spent and a bit less than double what Locke spent. Of that, as you can see, over $1.7 million was spent on media buys, which I presume all means television. I could be wrong – I don’t know what the difference is between Foston and Buying Time, though one possibility is “cable” versus “broadcast”, and another is “radio” versus “TV”. I’m guessing that the $5K and $126K expenditures to Neuman should be reversed, but since all of his direct mail expenditures – all $350K+ of it – were listed as “Consulting”, I could be wrong about that. And in the midst of all this airtime, it’s nice to know they didn’t forget about more modern forms of voter outreach. I’ll bet $500 buys a lot of text messages.

Candidate Amount Purpose ============================================================ Roy Morales 1,976.25 Radio ads (KSEV) Roy Morales 8,650.32 Mailer deposit Roy Morales 3,000.00 Mailer deposit Roy Morales 378.88 Printing Roy Morales 2,500.00 Ad (Tx Conservative Review) Roy Morales 1,000.00 Ad (Tx Conservative Review) Roy Morales 500.00 Mailer deposit Roy Morales 5,000.00 Mailer balance Roy Morales 1,500.00 Commercial purchase

Roy didn’t have much to spend, and what he did have he mostly spent on mail. Kind of piddly compared to what Brown spent, but then most things are. I’m not actually sure what Locke spent on mail, since all I saw were those “printing” charges, which could be many things. Parker didn’t spend anything on mail, but she’s been featured in several third party mailers I’ve received, including one from the HGLBT Political Caucus, one from Annie’s List, and one from the Houston Turnout Project. With friends like those, you can concentrate on other things. Oh, and let’s not forget the Texas Conservative Review, too. I bet it’ll chafe Roy to realize that Parker will have a bigger ad in Polland’s piece than he will. I’m just now realizing that neither Locke nor Brown had an expense for that, which strikes me as odd. Roy also got a $3000 in-kind donation for video production on his ad, and that $1500 commercial purchase, which I presume landed his ad somewhere, was an addendum to his original report. Anyone want to guess what show Roy’s ad interrupted was? Just a hunch here, but I’m thinking it was a one-off.

I’ve got similar reports in the works for the At Large and district Council races. Hope you found this useful.

“I don’t know” wins big!

Just as the Chron poll also asked about the Controller’s race, so did the recent KHOU poll, which went it one better and also asked about the At Large Council races. Not that this told us anything useful.

The poll, conducted by the Center for Civic Engagement at Rice University, reveals that registered Houston voters who describe themselves as likely to vote are unable to settle on a candidate in several major citywide races.

“Maybe what we’re seeing here is a complacency that leads to simply voting for incumbents,” said 11 News political expert Bob Stein, who conducted the poll. “Maybe complacency means simply not voting. And perhaps the turnout will be historically low.”

And maybe what we’re seeing is a bunch of people who have never voted in city elections but don’t want to admit that to a stranger on the telephone not having any idea about who to vote for in an election they weren’t going to participate in anyway. I mean, about 35,000 people in the city of Houston have already cast a ballot, which is maybe 15% of what the final turnout will be. These are people who know who they’re voting for. Maybe that’s who should be getting asked. I’m just saying.

Anyway. The poll has the Controller’s race as Green 12%, Khan 11%, and Holm 9%. None of the four contested Council races had as many as 20% of respondents give a definitive answer. I suppose you could say that C.O. Bradford, who had 11% to Noel Freeman’s 2%, and Council Member Jolanda Jones, with 11% to Jack Christie’s 3%, are “leading”, but I’d also say that as the sample of genuinely likely voters is probably a lot smaller than the number of people queried for this poll, the real margin of error is a lot higher than the 4.6% cited. Use these numbers at your own risk.

No quorum for Lawrence’s Council meeting on 287(g)

Good.

Three City Council members fell short of forcing a vote Wednesday on the city’s participation in a controversial immigration screening program after the rest of their colleagues skipped a special meeting.

The city secretary counted only three members — Toni Lawrence, Anne Clutterbuck and Mike Sullivan — present at the afternoon special meeting before it was called off for lack of a quorum. To officially meet on the issue, they would have needed at least eight members of council present.

After the aborted meeting, City Council member Pam Holm joined the trio at a news conference calling for Mayor Bill White to hold a public meeting on whether the city should participate in the 287(g) program, which trains local law enforcement to identify illegal immigrants in the jails.

The lackluster turnout came as little surprise as several council members reported last week that they had scheduling conflicts. Others had called for an informal boycott of the rare special meeting, accusing Lawrence of political “grandstanding” on the sensitive immigration issue.

Lawrence, who is campaigning to become the next Harris County Precinct 4 commissioner, denied calling the meeting for political gain, saying, “I have never grandstanded in the six years I’ve been on the council. I’m very passionate about this.”

Remember when Council Member Lawrence walked out of a Council meeting along with several of her colleagues while then-CM/candidate for Congress Shelley Sekula Gibbs was giving a speech that demanded the city change its immigration policies? Lawrence said she was “embarrassed” to be in the same room as Gibbs was. Funny how
running a race as a Republican changes one’s perspective, isn’t it? And as Stace notes, the claim about never grandstanding is a bit shaky, too.

Now I’m willing to have a real debate about the 287(g) program, as long as it is a substantive debate and not a political stunt. Seems to me we’re going to have to have this debate sooner or later, since most of the Mayoral candidates have talked about closing the city jail and outsourcing that function to the county, where the 287(g) program is being used. We’ve got the County’s example, now let’s learn from it. How many of the inmates they’ve referred to the feds really were “dangerous”? How many left families behind? How can we objectively quantify the effect, good and bad, of doing this? When we get those answers, we can talk about what the city should be doing.

Forget the “human element”, just get it right

Regarding the debate over instant replay in baseball, two facts are incontrovertible. One, the umps have really been blowing some calls lately. I mean, Joe Mauer’s ground rule double to left in Yankee Stadium that Phil Cuzzi ruled foul even though it was fair by a foot was one of the more egregious things I’ve ever seen. And two, baseball has made numerous changes over the years to how the game is officiated, all of which were done in an effort to improve outcomes. Over a hundred years ago they professionalized the umpiring corps to prevent intimidation by home team fans. Over time they added a second umpire, then a third, and then a fourth, because it was too hard for fewer men to call the game. They added umpires on the foul lines in playoff games specifically because those calls can be very hard for an umpire stationed in the infield. Given all that, I don’t see why having an umpire in the booth, with the authority to step in and reverse an obviously wrong call, is such a big deal. To me, getting the call right outweighs any other concern. I fail to understand why that point is even controversial.

Texas’ Madoff money

I’m not particularly upset that Texas had some money invested with Bernie Madoff, which is now gone. I mean, I wish that wasn’t the case, but he snookered an awful lot of people and organizations, so it’s neither shocking nor negligent that a Texas fund was among the investors. I’m glad the amount was a relatively small one, in the grand scheme of things. What does bother me is that we’re just now finding out about it, and only because someone else figured it out and asked Comptroller Susan Combs about it.

Combs spokesman R.J. DeSilva said Wednesday that the $19.5 million was written off last December after Austin Capital notified the state the money had been lost when Madoff’s Ponzi scheme collapsed. The treasury had been investing with Austin Capital since 2006.

[…]

Though Austin Capital’s losses have been public for months, Combs’ office did not publicly acknowledge the losses by the state of Texas until contacted by the Houston Chronicle/San Antonio Express-News.

[…]

Combs wrote an op-ed on Feb. 26 complaining that Madoff’s lack of transparency had caused investors across the United States to lose money but made no mention of her own agency’s losses.

“While there are no angry shareholders or investors to complain, we are accountable to the taxpayers who fill state coffers with their hard-earned dollars,” Combs said in her op-ed urging transparency in government.

Way to set your own example there, Susan. Were you ever going to disclose this loss if the newsies had come knocking on your door?