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December 17th, 2009:

Linda Chavez-Thompson

We Democrats may have ourselves a real candidate for Lite Guv.

Linda Chavez-Thompson, a former executive vice president of the AFL-CIO, is leaning toward running for lieutenant governor as a Democrat, according to multiple sources familiar with her plans.

The San Antonio resident, born and raised in the Lubbock area, is now executive vice president emerita of the labor organization and is also a vice chair of the Democratic National Committee. She was also a super-delegate during the 2008 presidential primary.

From her bio on the national Democratic Party Web site: “A native of Lubbock, Texas, Chavez-Thompson is a second-generation American of Mexican descent. Upon her retirement, she celebrated 40 years of experience in the labor movement, beginning in 1967 with her first work for the Laborers’ local union in Lubbock. She went on to serve in a variety of posts with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) in San Antonio, Texas, and became an international vice president in 1988, a post she held until 1996. She also served from 1986 to 1996 as a national vice president of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, AFL-CIO. In 1993, Chavez-Thompson was elected and served a two-year term as one of 31 vice presidents on the Executive Council of the national AFL-CIO.”

Among Democrats who know about her plans, there is already considerable excitement about a Chavez-Thompson bid. The thinking goes that her personal story — she quit school in the ninth grade so she could start working and earn money for her family — creates a contrast with Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, the wealthy Republican incumbent. (Of course, it’s worth pointing out that Dewhurst wasn’t born into wealth). And as someone who has risen to the top of the national labor movement and the top of the national Democratic Party, Chavez-Thompson has a myriad of contacts within the party from whom she can raise money. Plus, she is well-known in the San Antonio area.

Sounds great to me. The question, as always, is whether or not she can raise some money. You can be sure David Dewhurst will be on the air, where he’ll be busy misleading about the solution to the budget woes, so it will be vital for anyone who opposes him, especially a first time candidate, to get her message out. From what I hear and from what others are saying, she should have the capability of getting the resources she needs. And clearly, she’s a hard worker, so if given the chance she should be able to run with it. But first we need her to run, so for whatever my opinion is worth here, I say Run, Linda, Run!

Judicial Q&A: Judith Snively

(Note: I am running a series of Q&As for judicial candidates in contested Democratic primaries. There are a lot of judicial races on the ballot in Harris County this election, and so this is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to those who plan to vote in March. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. I will also be conducting some in-person interviews of candidates who will be involved in contested primaries for non-judicial offices. Please see the 2010 Election page listed at the top of the blog for a full list of Q&As and interviews.)

1. Who are you, and what are you running for?

JUDITH SNIVELY – Harris County Criminal Court at Law #3

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

Misdemeanors with maximum of one year sentences. These include DWI’s. Thefts, Assaults, Burglary of Motor Vehicle, Harassment, Criminal Trespass, Evading Detention, and Crminal Mischief.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

The Democratic Party placed me as a candidate for that bench.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have been practicing criminal law since 1987. I have represented thousands of clients. I speak Spanish.

5. Why is this race important?

We need to make changes in the Harris County in regard to policies in Court. We need to make courts more accessible throughout the day.

6. Why should people vote for you in the primary?

My opponent Lloyd Oliver has run as a Republican in the past for statewide offiice and is currently under indictment in a felony court. I am a Democrat and have been one my entire voting history. I bring those values to the bench. Mr. Oliver is not recognized by the Democratic Party as a serious candidate nor part of the Democratic coordinated campaign.

Runoff precinct analysis, Controller’s race

Picking up from where I left off yesterday, here’s the breakdown of the Controller’s race by Council district. For comparison purposes, here’s the November analysis.

Dist Green Khan Holm Green % Khan % Tot votes ========================================================= A 4,685 6,750 7,125 25.2 36.4 18,560 B 7,483 3,329 1,362 61.5 27.3 12,174 C 7,356 7,494 6,332 34.7 35.4 21,182 D 13,410 4,673 3,047 63.5 22.1 21,130 E 5,133 7,684 6,633 26.4 39.5 19,450 F 2,403 4,171 1,975 28.1 48.8 8,549 G 4,908 8,446 16,733 16.3 28.1 30,087 H 4,879 4,236 2,973 40.4 35.0 12,088 I 3,725 2,708 1,510 46.9 34.1 7,943 Dist Green Khan RG Pct MJ Pct RG inc MJ inc Total Nov % =================================================================== A 6,297 10,171 38.2 61.8 1,612 3,421 16,468 88.7 B 10,017 2,713 73.0 27.0 2,534 -616 12,730 104.6 C 9,951 10,878 47.8 52.2 2,595 3,384 20,829 98.3 D 16,935 5,014 77.2 22.8 3,525 341 21,949 103.9 E 6,172 10,304 37.5 62.5 1,039 2,620 16,476 84.7 F 3,298 4,870 40.4 59.6 895 699 8,168 95.5 G 8,130 17,206 32.1 67.9 3,222 8,760 25,336 84.2 H 6,616 5,513 54.5 45.5 1,737 1,277 12,129 100.3 I 4,437 2,994 59.7 40.3 712 286 7,431 93.6

Where the Mayor’s race was basically predictable, this one has a few twists and surprises. Some of the things that stand out to me:

– Clearly, people were paying more attention in Round Two. The share of the vote in every district relative to November was greater in this race than it was in the Mayor’s race. In districts B, D, and H, voter participation increased. The reason for this is simply that fewer people skipped this race the second time around. The undervote rate in November was over 15%, but in December it was 8.5%. As such, the total number of votes in the Controller’s race dropped by about 10,000, whereas the decrease was about 24,000 in the Mayor’s race.

– Green did well where he needed to do well. The people in B and D certainly got the message, where the former saw some Khan voters convert to his side. He held his own reasonably well in the Republican districts, a fact which will be more clear when you see the runoff analysis for the At Large Council races. It feels to me like he maybe could have done better in C and even H, but the cause isn’t clear. It may be that Democratic voters in those districts didn’t turn out at as high a level as the Republican voters, and it may have been the result of Khan’s financial advantage, which he used in large part on a TV ad blitz. Hard to say.

– It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that Khan could have won this race. Had there been the kind of turnout in the Republican districts that might have made the Mayor’s race less close, I think Khan would have won. Looking at the dropoffs in A, E, and G supports the conclusion that Republicans as a whole were less into the runoff without one of their own at the top of the ticket. They didn’t stay home in droves – indeed, each of the three Republican citywide candidates carried Harris County on Election Day – but they didn’t turn out at the same levels, at least in some parts of the city. I’m a little surprised to see that Khan didn’t do any better in his home district of F than he did, but given that he didn’t get a majority there in Round One, I suppose I shouldn’t be.

– Overall, Khan improved on his performance from November by more than Green did, picking up 20,172 extra votes in Harris to Green’s 17,871. But Green started with a lead of over 4500 votes, so he held on here and padded the lead with the results in Fort Bend, which were about the same as in November.

Next up, the Council At Large races.

White v. Vasquez

Harris County Tax Assessor Leo Vasquez says Look at me!”

Mayor Bill White and Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Leo Vasquez traded barbs Tuesday over two contracts that have led relations between the city and county to what Mayor Bill White called a “low point” just as he is leaving office to run for governor.

Vasquez went to City Council’s public session ostensibly to urge White to sign a contract raising the amount the city pays the county to collect Houston property taxes, but it quickly became clear his remarks had a political edge as he accused White of leaving the city’s budget in “disastrous” condition.

“Mr. Mayor, I urge you to quit wasting time and not leave this mess for others to clean up after you,” Vasquez said. “Please sign the updated fee agreement so that the rest of us can get on with the business of government.”

White responded by blasting Vasquez for failing to communicate with him about the disputed contracts.

You can read Vasquez’s press release, which reads like it came out of Rick Perry’s political shop, here, and White’s response letter here. One of them sounds like a responsible adult, the other, well, read them and see for yourself. Honestly, for the relatively small amount in question, it’s hard to see why that press release, with the tone it adopts, would be the right call. I mean, can you imagine Ed Emmett doing something like that? I can’t. KUHF has more.

On a side note:

Precinct 3 Commissioner Steve Radack said he has “no relationship with the new mayor,” noting that she called him once during the course of the campaign, asking to meet, and he did not do so.

“When the city talks about cooperation, what they’re trying to say to the county is, ‘please send money,’ ” he said.

Sure, Steve. Please tell me, how much in taxes does the county derive from Houston residents, and just how much does the county spend building roads and parks here? I just love seeing my tax dollars going to boondoggles like the Grand Parkway. You show me how much of your budget comes from City of Houston monies, and then we can talk about who’s supporting whom.

Improving campaign finance disclosure

This is a step in the right direction.

The [Texas Ethics Commission] adopted new rules last week that, beginning this summer, will require anyone running for office to use 19 defined subject categories to describe any goods, services or other things of value purchased by their campaigns.

In the past, these candidates chose vague terms — think “public relations” — that didn’t clearly define the purpose of their political expenditures, violating state law and raising concerns about whether the money was converted to their personal use. (Campaign funds are raised from political supporters and interest groups, and don’t contain taxpayer money, so the rules about how they can be used are more lenient).

The new campaign spending rules now mean that campaigns will have specific guidance on how to define expenses in the future. For example, the candidates will now have to choose from descriptions such as “advertising expense,” “polling expense”, and “event expense,” among many others. In addition, the commission is requiring that candidates provide “sufficiently specific” descriptions of expenditures after the categories — a further increase in disclosure.

Reform advocates praised the changes. The rules should make it easier for the public to calculate candidates’ spending priorities — and make it more difficult for candidates to mask the spending of political funds, as some watchdogs have complained.

Having spent a lot of time these past couple of months wading through campaign finance forms for the Houston elections, I’m delighted to hear this. There are still many ways that things can be improved further – changing the nature of the reporting system to include basic validation checks, and requiring stricter standards for disclosure of personal finances, to name two – but stuff like this matters. Kudos to the TEC for making it happen. Coby has more.