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October 20th, 2010:

DOJ gets a call on voter intimidation allegations

Day Two of early voting saw far fewer allegations of voter intimidation and the possible arrival of the Justice Department to keep an eye on things.

Responding to complaints that poll watchers were intimidating voters in predominantly minority polling locations, County Attorney Vince Ryan summoned the county chairmen of both major parties to his office Tuesday and reminded them of their responsibility to make sure the observers were obeying the law.

Ryan also announced in the meeting that he has requested a monitor from the Justice Department to observe the voting process in Harris County through Nov. 2.

In a follow-up letter to the county chairmen, Ryan pointed out that poll watchers are entitled to be at a polling location, but cannot be present at the actual polling station when the voter is preparing his ballot and cannot converse with an election officer about the election, except to call attention to an irregularity or violation of the law.

Harris County Democratic Chairman Gerry Birnberg said his office had received reports Monday that poll watchers were “hovering” over voters, “getting in their face,” and talking to election workers.

“This is the fourth general election I’ve been involved with,” Birnberg said, “and we have never had this kind of problem in the past.”

TPM has more on this.

“We are currently gathering information regarding this matter,” Justice Department spokeswoman Xochitl Hinojosa said in a statement confirming the Civil Rights Division’s involvement.


Chad Dunn, a lawyer who is representing the Texas Democratic Party, told TPMMuckraker a number of witnesses have been interviewed by Civil Rights Division lawyers already. “We’ve gotten a number of reports — quite a few out of the Houston area — that poll watchers, King Street Patriot training poll watchers, are following a voter after they’ve checked them out and stand right behind them,” Dunn said. There’s at least a dozen reports that they could confirm with witnesses, he said. “Interestingly, it’s all in the polling places in Hispanic and African-American areas,” he added.

Terry O’Rourke, the first assistant in the Harris County Attorney’s office, told TPMMuckraker that there have been allegations of poll watchers talking to voters, which they are not allowed to do, as well as hovering over voters as they are waiting to vote. He said the complaints came from Kashmere Gardens, Moody Park, Sunnyside and other predominantly minority neighborhoods of the county.

Here’s more from TPM, in which they document some of the racist, threatening, and harassing emails that Houston Votes has gotten from these lovely people. I’m very glad to see this being taken seriously, and I hope this action will curtail the illegal behavior. KTRK and Mediaite have more, as do Martha, Stace, and John.

As for the Day Two numbers, here’s the same calculation I did yesterday, updated to include the October 19 vote totals.

2010 Day Two Strong R = 46.4% Medium R = 9.5% Medium D = 18.1% Strong D = 23.3% Total R = 55.9% Total D = 41.4% 2010 Overall Strong R = 46.7% Medium R = 9.2% Medium D = 18.1% Strong D = 23.4% Total R = 55.9% Total D = 41.5% 2006 Overall Strong R = 43.7% Medium R = 11.2% Medium D = 19.2% Strong D = 23.2% Total R = 54.9% Total D = 42.4%

Not a whole lot of change from yesterday, and still not a whole lot of difference from 2006. Again, this is a crude measure, there are more and different voters in each district, yadda yadda yadda. Make of it what you will. Statewide Day One early vote numbers for the top 15 counties are here

Judicial Q&A: Michael Gomez

(Note: I am running a series of Q&As for Democratic judicial candidates on the November ballot. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. These Q&As are primarily intended for candidates who were not in contested primaries. You can see those earlier Q&As, as well as all the ones in this series and all my recorded interviews for this cycle, on my 2010 Elections page.)

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

My name is Michael Gomez and I am running for the 183rd Criminal District Court.

2 . What kind of cases does this court hear?

The 183rd District Court handles felony cases. This court hears capital murder cases, robberies, assaults, burglaries, sexual assaults, drug possession cases, and etc.

3 . Why are you running for this particular bench?

I am running to make sure that justice is carried out: every time, every case. Those who break our laws belong before our judges. If defendants are found guilty, they must be sentenced accordingly. Judges sitting in criminal district courts must have both the resolve and the will to apply precedents and even persuasive dicta from the appellate courts to the facts of each case before them. I will do so with no demonstration of bias.

4 . What are your qualifications for this job?

I have been a trial lawyer for 9 and ½ years. I handle cases from the development stage through jury verdict and have extensive experience in motion practice, not only before district courts in Harris County but throughout Texas. My current practice consists of managing a law office of 20 individuals where I handle a high volume case load. I believe that these skills will allow me to move cases swiftly through my courtroom, while also making sure that each defendant is given a fair trial. I believe my ability to balance fairness under the law and swift decision making will provide defendants with ample time and opportunity to mount a reasonable defense while giving the prosecution the same opportunity. Finally, I have been an adjunct professor at the University of Houston – Downtown for the past 9 years teaching Criminal Law, Legal Rights of the Convicted Criminal, Criminal Procedure, and The American Civil and Criminal Court System.

5 . Why is this race important?

This race is important because I am an unbiased candidate. Due to my lack of bias, everyone who appears before me will be judged on the merits of the case, not the attorney who represents them.

6 . Why should people vote for you in November?

All of the above answers give evidence as to why I believe I will earn the voters in Harris County’s confidence and their votes in November. The bottom line is that I have the experience, dedication, work ethic, integrity, honesty and desire to be the judge that Harris County deserves.

Endorsement watch: Beware the really bad candidates

Gloria Padilla in the Express News has some good advice.

Voting is not as easy as it used to be when communities were smaller and everyone knew the candidates. Smart voters need to do their homework and research their candidates. The uninformed choices made at the ballot box could have adverse consequences for generations to come.

I especially urge voters to research the State Board of Education candidates before casting a ballot.

There are two seats up in the Bexar County area.

In District 5, Democrat Rebecca Bell-Metereau of Austin is facing incumbent Ken Mercer, a former state representative from San Antonio.

Mercer is a member of a dysfunctional majority on the state education board that is making Texas the laughingstock of the nation. He has used his position on the state board to promote his personal beliefs and force them into to the curriculum. That is not the role of a state board of education member.

Bell-Metereau is a Fulbright scholar and professor at Texas State University in San Marcos.

There is no incumbent in the District 3 race. Democrat Rick Agosto, who held the seat for the last four years, chose not to seek a second term.

Voters in this race have a choice between another well-respected university professor and a man prone to non-responsive answers to most questions.

Anyone who has ever met the two candidates knows there is only one qualified candidate in this race. Republican Tony Cunningham, the Republican candidate, has no clue what the job is about and will talk about the Constitution and job creation when asked about education.

His opponent, Democrat Michael Soto, grew up in Brownsville and was educated at Harvard. He has a son enrolled in the San Antonio Independent School District. He knows public education.

We may never have another election in which this much attention has been paid to SBOE races. Hopefully, we will also never have another election in which the likes of Cynthia Dunbar can get elected without opposition because no one pays attention to SBOE races. Whatever happens in the actual races, a lot more people understand that races like these are as important as the ones they’re used to hearing about and paying attention to, and that’s a good thing.

Overview of the Railroad Commission race

Here’s the Chron overview of the race for Railroad Commissioner between the highly qualified and universally endorsed Democrat Jeff Weems and the “I have an R by my name” Republican David Porter.

Weems is a Houston oil and gas lawyer who worked on oil rigs to help finance college.

“I’m a big fan of the oil and gas industry,” he said. “I want to keep it strong because it’s one of our biggest taxpayers.”

However, Weems said, the BP offshore explosion resulting in millions of barrels of oil pouring into the gulf and crippling fishing and tourism industries earlier this year underscores the need to “watch them. You have to regulate. That’s the commissioners’ job.”

For Weems, the campaign comes down to “competence and balance.”

A commissioner must understand, he said, what goes on out in the field in order to have sensible regulations, and a legal background helps because the commission acts like a tribunal in resolving disputes between producers and pipeline companies. The commission also settles natural gas rate disputes between cities and utility companies.

Here’s my interview with Weems if you need a reminder of how good he’d be at this job. There’s not much else I can think of to add at this point.

Texas gator population bouncing back

Good news.

The storm surge from Hurricane Ike in 2008 severely damaged alligator habitat in coastal marshes along the upper Texas coast, resulting in the outright death of a considerable number of gators. It also delayed the mortality of others and, the following spring, produced the worst alligator nesting effort wildlife managers had documented. But two years later, the big reptiles are recovering quite nicely.

“They’re doing very good,” said Amos Cooper, who heads the alligator program for Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

After being nearly exterminated by unregulated hunting that continued into the 1960s, Texas’ alligator population boomed when the wetland-dependant reptiles were given federal and state protection. By 1984, the population in Texas had recovered enough that the first hunting season since the ’60s was allowed. That closely regulated season has expanded over the past quarter century — as has the gator population.

So how many gators live in Texas? Rough estimates indicate perhaps 400,000 or more. But that’s just an educated guess.


During the 2008 alligator nesting season, TPWD aerial surveys found only 24 gator nests in those three southeast Texas counties. That was less than 10 percent of the number usually found.

But it’s arguable the alligator’s marsh habitat has recovered completely, including the nesting effort.

“It was up 75 percent over last year,” said Cooper of this year’s nest counts. “We’re slowly getting back to normal.”

Because alligators live long (they can age 60 years or more), one or two “off” years of nesting success won’t crater a population, so even with the loss of gators from Ike, the population remains strong.

“We are not in danger of running out of alligators. That’s for sure,” Cooper said.

Indeed, when we read last year about the devastating effect of Hurricane Ike on the gators’ habitat, the prediction was that they would rebound. I’m delighted to see that prediction has been borne out. Just keep your distance from them unless you really know what you’re doing, and all will be well.