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November 3rd, 2009:

Election results thread

It’s gonna be a long night…Here are the early vote results from Harris County.

Candidate Votes Pct ========================= Locke 17,183 28.76 Parker 17,169 28.74 Brown 15,387 25.75 Morales 9,451 15.82 Green 19,389 39.97 Holm 16,939 32.26 Khan 15,631 29.77

That’s Harris County early and absentee votes only. Fort Bend is here, though there are fewer than 1000 votes out there.

In the Council elections, Stephen Costello and Karen Derr lead in At Large #1, CO Bradford has a huge lead, enough to win tonight, in #4, Sue Lovell is just below 50% in #2, and Jolanda Jones is leading but under 45% in #5, with Jack Christie about ten points behind her. In the district races, Brenda Stardig and Lane Lewis lead in A, Al Hoang and Mike Laster lead in F, and Oliver Pennington is at about 57% in G. None of the district incumbents is in any danger.

Like I said, we could be here awhile. Buckle up and get ready. More to come as it comes in.

UPDATE: The race of the evening so far is in HCC District 3, where Diane Olmos Guzman leads Mary Ann Perez by one vote, 827 to 826. Can you say “RECOUNT”?

UPDATE: With 85 city precincts in, Parker takes the lead, and Brown falls back a bit. The Controller’s race and At Large #5 tighten up a bit.

UPDATE: With 173 of 734 Houston precincts reporting, the score in Harris County is:

Candidate Votes Pct ========================= Parker 24,117 29.65 Locke 21,715 26.70 Brown 19,983 24.57 Morales 14,712 18.10 Green 26,036 36.67 Holm 22,725 32.00 Khan 22,245 31.33

No new data in Fort Bend yet. Sue Lovell is a hair below 49%, Jolanda Jones is at 43 and change. Bradford and Pennington remain above 50%, other top contenders are the same, with Mike Laster catching up a bit on Al Hoang.

In that HCC race, Mary Ann Perez is now six – count ’em! – votes ahead of Diane Olmos Guzman. Alma Lara has nudged over 50% in HISD I, while Larry Marshall has dropped a bit in HISD IX.

UPDATE: I should note that KHOU, our gracious hosts for this evening, has a really nice election returns page, which integrates the Harris, Fort Bend, and Montgomery County results for the city elections.

UPDATE: Nearly 37% of precincts are in, and Parker is up a bit more. Interestingly, as Martha pointed out on Twitter, Roy is running second on EDay votes alone. Weird. I just bet Bob Stein five bucks that Roy will not finish ahead of Brown. He made me give him three points, but I still think I’ll win.

UPDATE: 56% of the votes are in for Harris County, and Parker is over 30% there. However, Locke netted 1700 votes over her in Fort Bend, which makes it a bit closer for him. KHOU has her up by 5000 votes. Roy keeps doing well on EDay – could it have been the biker ad? He still trails Brown, but it’s close. Bob Stein just trash-talked me. MJ Khan is in second place in the Controller’s race by 45 votes. Alma Lara is down at 45%, and Anna Eastman up at 40%, in the HISD I race. Jolanda Jones keeps losing ground, while Sue Lovell is over 50% on EDay in Harris; she still may not break 50% overall, however, though she nipped Andrew Burks in Fort Bend.

UPDATE: We’re at about 75% of precincts in, and at this point I can’t see how it’s not Parker versus Locke in the runoff. The only suspense is the final margin, and whether or not I will owe Bob Stein $5. Oh, and whether MJ Khan, who currently leads Pam Holm by about 400 votes, holds on to get in to the runoff for Controller.

Twenty percent

Turnout projections for this election, originally at 25%, are being revised downward as polling places report slow going.

Richard Murray, political science professor at the University of Houston, said the 25 percent turnout estimate may be optimistic. At midday, he lowered his expectation to 20 percent.

“It’s surprising to me that it’s so low,” he said. “Disheartening? Not to me personally. When the electorate shrinks, you get people who know more about the issues and about individual candidates in particular. It reduces somewhat the behavior that’s generated by TV ads. I don’t think its going to have any devastating effects.”

I suppose there could still be a rush of folks on the way home from work – I just got two emails from the Parker campaign with the subject line “ALERT: Polls Close in Less Than 2 Hours!”, so the candidates are certainly still working it. But don’t be surprised if fewer than 200,000 votes total are cast in the city. I don’t know who that benefits and who it hurts, but it does suggest to me that there may not be much drop in participation from this election to the runoff. Expect to get a lot of contact from the surviving campaigns if you did your civic duty this time around.

As a reminder, tune in to KHOU this evening after 7 PM to see me play a pundit on television. I’ll be posting updates here as well from the studio.

Election Day

You know the drill by now. You can find polling locations here, and you can see a Google map and download a spreadsheet of voting locations in the open Council districts at Greg’s place. The Tax Assessor’s office would like you to know that they are available to help if you have any questions as well. If you look over on the sidebar, there’s a widget to follow Houston Mayor-related chatter on Twitter, courtesy of Greg. And if you still haven’t made up your mind in a race or two, you can listen to my interviews with the candidates to help you decide.

I have not said much about who I am supporting in the Mayor’s race. I wanted to keep an open mind and give all the candidates an opportunity to convince me to support them. In the end, I gave my vote to the candidate who started out as my preference, Annise Parker. I respect Peter Brown and Gene Locke, and I believe either one of them would do a good job if elected. But I believe Annise Parker is the best candidate, and I am happy to vote for her. I hope you will consider voting for her as well.

CNN ran a story yesterday about Parker and Houston’s mayoral election. They also talked to me about the race, which you can see at the end of the clip:

If you missed seeing that, you will have another opportunity to miss seeing me on TV tonight, when I join Nancy Sims on KHOU to talk about today’s election. My advice would be to go to an Election Night party and watch us from there. Happy voting!

The Sports Authority responds

J. Kent Friedman, the chairman of the board of the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority, contributes this op-ed to counter the idea that taxpayers may be on the hook for some of its obligations.

• • Up to $4 million per year of Reliant Stadium parking revenue was pledged to back any shortfall in the Reliant Stadium bonds. The bond insurance company required this pledge, due to the Texans being a brand new entity with no prior financial history. Since the opening of Reliant Stadium, approximately $56 million in parking revenues have been received by Harris County. Until this year, none of those revenues was ever needed. Due to the credit crisis, up to $4 million per year of those parking revenues will now be used during the five years of accelerated payments.

• • If for any reason, the sports authority is unable to make payments on the bonds, the bond insurance company, MBIA, would be required to pay the debt service on the bonds, which is exactly why the sports authority purchased insurance when the bonds were issued.

• • If the bond insurance company for some reason did not pay the bonds, then either JPMorgan Chase or the bondholders would have to wait until enough funds were collected through the current financing structure, or until the sports authority could refinance, if feasible.

This is basically the argument that Gene Locke made in my interview with him. All I can say is that the previous reporting, both in the Chron and elsewhere, does not give the impression that JPMorgan Chase or the bondholders would have to wait to get the money they’re demanding. And even if that is the case, it seems to me that refinancing may well include the possibility of higher annual payments, as such a re-fi may mean shorter terms for the loan. Friedman didn’t address that point, nor did he specifically call out any aspect of the Chron story as wrong, so I don’t know if that means I’m misunderstanding something, or if he’s simply glossing over that stuff. But there you have it from their perspective.

Two views of Willingham and Perry

Couple of good op-eds in the papers in the past few days concerning the Cameron Todd Willingham case. First, here’s State Sen. Rodney Ellis and Barry Scheck of the Innocence Project focusing on the forensics:

In 2006, the Innocence Project brought the Willingham case to Texas’ Forensic Science Commission, which the state Legislature had created a year earlier. The Legislature created this commission to investigate allegations of negligence or misconduct that substantially affects the integrity of forensic analysis and recommend corrective action. The commission’s charge is straightforward and clear, and the Willingham case fits squarely within it.

The filing that kicked off the commission’s investigation didn’t just focus on Willingham’s case. It also included the case of Ernest Willis, who was convicted and sentenced to death for a nearly identical crime at around the same time — based on nearly identical forensic analysis — but was exonerated because the forensic evidence was so flawed. The Pecos County prosecutor who requested Willis’ exoneration determined that the arson analysis was wrong because it relied on outdated and inaccurate forensic techniques. Willis was determined to be “actually innocent” and was compensated by the state of Texas.

The filing also noted that thousands of Texans are convicted of arson, and that the commission’s investigation could help determine whether accurate, reliable forensic analysis is being used statewide. The Forensic Science Commission voted unanimously to move forward with an investigation comparing the Willis and Willingham cases and, by extension, determining whether there may be broader problems with other arson convictions.

This is the kind of work the Legislature had in mind when it created the commission. The legislation creating the commission passed in 2005, in the midst of the Houston Police Department crime lab scandal. Many legislators cited problems in the lab when debating whether to create the commission, and they also made it clear that we needed an independent commission to investigate other forensic issues that may come up.

And that’s why it’s so important that the Commission be able to do its work in an independent fashion, without any meddling from Governor Perry. On that score, and on the matter of innocence, here’s Rod Dreher of the Dallas Morning News.

Perry is plainly afraid that his own investigators will discover that the state likely put a blameless man to death. But what is he afraid of? Political fallout? What is mere politics when the credibility of a system that might have killed an innocent man – and might yet kill other innocents – is at issue? Our skittish governor has taken to calling Willingham a “monster.” Even if he was, we put men to death for their deeds, not their dispositions. He needed killin’ is no rationale for execution.

A real leader – a brave and honorable one – would want to know the truth, so that if evidence requires it, he and others responsible for Willingham’s death could make restitution and repent for shedding the blood of a blameless man railroaded to his execution. If hard-hearted Perry is so certain of Willingham’s guilt, why object to an investigation?

More importantly, if Willingham was wrongly put to death, all decent capital punishment supporters should want strict measures taken to ensure that this catastrophe never happens again. If we are going to have the death penalty, we have the solemn duty to use it responsibly. Right? Surely we Texans aren’t the kind of people so enamored of retribution that the actual guilt or innocence of those executed in our names is of no real concern.

I’ve often wondered why more conservatives aren’t skeptical of the death penalty. I mean, talk about a vast exercise of government power. Anyway, check ’em both out.

Please know a little something about Texas before you write about Texas

David Broder packs an awful lot of ignorance into these two sentences of his bizarrely hostile column about the Senate’s health care reform bill and the opt-out compromise.

If a health care reform with an opt-out provision were to become law this year or next, one of the first states you might expect to exempt itself would be Texas. Republicans now control the governorship and both houses of the Legislature, and the state had no trouble rejecting candidate Barack Obama.

First, as surely Broder does not know, the next time the Legislature convenes will be January of 2011. As such, if a bill gets signed before the end of the year as some important Democrats expect, it would be at least a year before Texas could take any action. (Actually, it will likely be much later than that; more on that in a moment.) And of course, when the Lege next convenes, it may well have a Democratic majority, and there may well also be a new Governor. So I wouldn’t take Broder’s bet just yet, as the conditions may well be very different.

(Yes, Rick Perry could call a special session on this if he really wanted to. For a variety of reasons, I doubt he would, but I admit you never know with him. Be that as it may, I’m quite certain Broder knows nothing about this, either.)

Of course, 2011 may be too soon for any state to act on the opt-out provision. Perhaps Broder should spend a few minutes chatting with his colleague Ezra Klein, who is far more informed about what is actually in the bill. Or he could just listen in on one of Klein’s online chats, where he would have discovered the following:

The House bill has a national public option that will set rates in the same way private insurers do (negotiating with providers). The Senate bill has a national public option that works the same way as the House’s, save that it has an opt-out feature starting in 2014.

Emphasis mine. First, the House version of the bill has no opt-out provision; that was strictly a Senate invention, and as such it may not make it into the final bill at all. Second, the Senate provision doesn’t kick in till 2014, by which time I presume that we’ll all be obsessing about something else. But even if not, for Texas that would mean our first crack at it would be in 2015, after yet another gubernatorial election – who knows, to opt out or not to opt out might even be an issue in that election – and three legislative elections. Who knows what the landscape will look like then?

I keep mentioning the Legislature because apparently that’s what it would take to actually opt out. Back to Ezra:

East Lansing, Mich.: One thing I don’t get about the state opt-out plan is how exactly does a state decide?

Why would it be better to create the exact same fight going on right now in D.C. but 50 times?

Ezra Klein: What I’m hearing is that both houses of the legislature would have to vote to opt out, and the governor would have to sign it. At the end of the day, I think very few states will actually opt out, because I don’t think people will still be yowling about the public option come 2014. Once the controversy of this moment goes, I don’t believe it will come back.

Again, you’d think Broder would want to acknowledge that fact, assuming he’s aware of it. The point here is that even in Texas, actually opting out would be difficult to do, even if we continue to have an all-Republican government. There are many ways to kill a bill, and if the two-thirds rule continues to exist in the Senate, that would present a significant obstacle.

And believe it or not, the Republicans in the Texas Lege are not as monolithic as the ones in Congress. SB1569, the bill to modify Texas’ unemployment insurance laws so that the state would have been eligible to accept the unemployment stimulus funds that Governor Perry so famously rejected, passed the Senate and had the votes to pass the House had it not been for the end-of-session chubfest that killed the voter ID bill. Perry would have vetoed it had it passed, and that veto would have stood up, but my point is that the Republican-controlled Legislature did not see eye to eye with him on this. Again, I’m sure Broder knows nothing of this.

We don’t really know yet what the bill that passes the Senate will look like, or what the conference committee version will look like. There may be an opt-out provision, or there may be something else; there may even be the Olympia Snowe “trigger” provision that is the apparent purpose of Broder’s column. All I’m saying is that if you’re going to use Texas as evidence to argue against a bill, it would be nice if you knew something about what the bill contains, not to mention knowing something about Texas politics.

Texas blog roundup for the week of November 2

The Texas Progressive Alliance reminds you to get out and vote today. Click on for are this week’s highlights.