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July, 2012:

Election night returns

For your convenience:

Statewide Democratic results

Looks good for Paul Sadler. Going to be a long night in CDs 23 and 33.

Statewide Republican results

Ted Cruz has a modest early lead. Wackjob John Devine is leading Supreme Court Justice David Medina. Steve Stockman is leading in CD36, and Donna Campbell is crushing Jeff Wentworth. The crazy flag is flying high.

Harris County Democratic results

Looking good for Gene Wu, Alan Rosen, and especially Erica Lee, who has over 70% in the disputed HCDE runoff.

Harris County GOP results

Louis Guthrie will get to oppose Sheriff Adrian Garcia.

I’ll post full results in the morning.

Runoff Day

At long last, the 2012 primary season is about to be over in Texas, other than perhaps the HCDE race. To say the least, it’s been a long, strange trip, one that I hope goes down in the books as a bizarre aberration, never to be repeated or approximated. If you have not voted yet in Harris County, you can find all the information you will need here. PLEASE be aware that only a handful of locations will be open, and they are not guaranteed to have both primaries at them. Check your location before you head out and avoid any needlessly unpleasant surprises.

As far as turnout goes, recent runoff history suggests that most of the votes have already been cast:

Year Mail Mail % Early Early % E-Day E-Day % ======================================================== 2006 D 2,920 21.3% 4,296 31.3% 6,510 47.4% 2006 R 5,432 51.6% 2,019 19.2% 3,077 29.2% 2008 D 4,568 47.4% 3,045 31.5% 2,056 21.3% 2008 R 11,373 28.0% 14,912 36.8% 14,262 35.2% 2010 D 5,885 38.7% 5,122 33.6% 4,218 27.8% 2010 R 12,220 28.4% 14,769 34.3% 16,025 37.3% 2012 D 7,304 11,715 2012 R 17,441 53,043

Final EV turnout numbers for this year are here. As there were no statewide Democratic primary runoffs in 2010, I had forgotten there were Harris County countywide runoffs that year. I have added in those numbers to my earlier post to complete the picture on that. My apologies for the oversight. Anyway, what we learn from this, other than the need for a good absentee ballot program, is that in each primary runoff of the past three cycles more than half the ballots were cast before Runoff Day. In fact, outside of the 2006 Democratic primary runoff, more than 60% of the ballots were cast before Runoff Day. Given that, don’t expect too much to be added to the vigorous early turnout so far. It could happen that the final total will be more than double what it is now for either primary, but history suggests otherwise.

Of course, we’ve never really had anything like the GOP Senate primary and runoff, so if there’s going to be another aberration, that would be where and why. I’m not dumb enough to try to guess who will win that race, but I will say that anyone who had made a prediction based on turnout level ought to be giving the matter more thought. It would also seem that Sarah Palin and Rick Perry are no longer BFFs. High school sure can be rough, can’t it?

The other GOP runoffs of interest to me are in SD25 and HD43. In the former, generally sane if occasionally eccentric Sen. Jeff Wentworth is trying to hang on against the decidedly crazy Donna Campbell, whose election would be another big step in the stupidification of the Senate, as well as a clean sweep for the teabaggers in the legislative primaries. HD43 is where turncoat Dem Rep. JM Lozano is hoping to not be yet another Latino Republican knocked off in a primary by a white guy. Expect some narrative-related punditry on that race no matter who wins.

On the Democratic side, obviously I’m rooting for Paul Sadler to carry the banner in the Senate race in the fall. Like EoW, I don’t know if a Cruz-Sadler matchup will be the definitive test of the myth/hypothesis that moderate Republicans may finally be willing to cross over and support a mainstream Dem over a nutty Republican – I’d argue that Bill White already provided some evidence to that, he just picked the wrong year to do it in – but if you want to start your speculation engines, Burka quoted a “nationally known Republican consultant” who said that “if Ted Cruz wins the Senate race, Texas will be a purple state in four years.” Campose says, why wait?

Why not accelerate things starting Wednesday morning?

A little over a million GOPers will cast votes in the GOP runoff tomorrow. In the 2008 General Election in the Lone Star State, eight million of us cast votes. That’s seven million voters that aren’t participating in the GOP mudfest. A lot of voters across the state have been turned off by the onslaught of negative ads that now have a mom blaming her kid’s suicide on Ted Cruz.

I think if Cruz wins he is damaged goods that Dems can seize upon over the next 99 days.


If Cruz does pull it off tomorrow we need to immediately paint him and the rest of the GOP ballot as too extreme for the Lone Star State and Harris County. Commentary has said it before that in order for Dems to grow here in Harris County we have to head northwest. Commentary is also partial to my client, State Board of Education, District 6 candidate Traci Jensen. Traci’s GOP opponent Donna Bahorich is State Senator Dan Patrick’s former district director and every bit as scary as Ted Cruz. The showcasing of Traci Jensen, Rep. Sadler, and Sheriff Adrian Garcia against extremist candidates in that part of the county will result in more Dem votes up and down the ballot countywide.

Sometimes unexpected opportunities just show up at your doorstep. If Cruz wins, an opportunity is at our doorstep.

If the Dems in charge just shrug it off and go on about business as usual and cede the state to Cruz, the Tea Baggers, and extremism, then a “shame on you” would be letting them off too lightly.

Well, it sure would be nice if Sadler had 45 million bucks to spend to remind everyone of all the awful things Dewhurst and Cruz have been saying about each other, but I don’t think that’s going to happen. But Campos is right, there’s no time like the present, and there’s no place like our own back yard to get started. What are we waiting for?

Beyond that, there are three Congressional runoffs that are big. It’s been clear for a few years now that the future of the Texas Democratic Party has been in the State House, and depending on how things go we could have as many as three former members of last year’s delegation on the November ballot (Joaquin Castro, who is already the CD20 nominee; Marc Veasey in CD33; Pete Gallego in CD23), with two of them all but guaranteed a win in November. I’d consider that a down payment on future state races. In addition, the woefully under-reported CD34 primary will determine whether or not the husband of a Republican judge will be the Democratic nominee for that newly created Congressional district. I have a hard time believing that, too, but here we are. There are numerous State House races of interest as well, with HD137 being the focal point for me. On the GOP side, seven House runoffs plus the Wentworth race feature Parent PAC candidates, so those are worth keeping an eye on, too. What races are you watching today?

The murder rate is the same as it was last year

There’s no evidence to suggest otherwise at this time.

Though Houston is not in any danger of reclaiming the unenviable title of “murder capital of the United States,” murders in the city jumped 17 percent during the first six months of this year compared to the same period last year.

There were 105 murders from January through June, up from 90 in the same time frame in 2011. That pace is nowhere near the record-setting year of 1981, when there were a whopping 701 killings in the city.

Robberies, meanwhile, also spiked significantly in the first six months of this year – up 18 percent, police records show.

Authorities say the murder and robbery rates are below other years and believe that crime initiatives in targeted areas have started pulling the numbers back down in the last three months.

“From January through March, the number of murders jumped by 28.9 percent, but when the next three months were included, the increase dropped to 16.7 percent,” said Houston Police Capt. David Gott. “We can definitely see a downward trend here.”

Murders and violent crime began dropping dramatically in Houston and other large U.S. cities in the 1990s. That trend culminated last year when murders dropped to 198 in Houston, the lowest since 1965.

The story is based on a comparison of the first six months of 2011 to the first six months of 2012. But if there were 198 murders committed in Houston last year and 90 of them were in January through June, then there were 108 murders in the last six months of 2011, which is three more than were committed through June this year. Change the time period for comparison and you change the perception of the data. As an expert quoted in the story said, and as I suggested last year, a bump in the numbers this year doesn’t mean anything. We could still be in the midst of a long-term decrease in the murder rate, or we could be settled at the bottom of that decline. A small variation from one year to the next doesn’t really tell us anything.

HCDE runoff will be held

So ruled a judge yesterday in the ongoing lawsuit filed by the HCDE to void the Democratic primary in Precinct 1 Position 6.

The Harris County Department of Education told a federal judge Monday it wants to proceed with the lawsuit as a growing number of parties sought to dismiss the case.

Erica Lee

Sarah Langlois, general counsel for the department of education, said the board’s motivation to continue the suit is the same as its reason for filing it: its trustees must be elected lawfully, lest their decisions be legally challenged later.

The department of education provides services to school districts in Harris County, from after-school programs to purchasing.

County attorneys filed a motion to dismiss the suit with U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal’s court on Monday, followed by a similar motion from the county Democratic Party. County Republic Party chairman Jared Woodfill, in an act of inadvertent bipartisanship that sent laughs through the courtroom, soon approached the bench and said he, too, wanted the suit dismissed; a lawyer for Democratic candidate Erica S. Lee echoed the sentiment.

Jarvis Johnson

Tuesday’s Position 6 trustee runoff election between Lee and former Houston city councilman Jarvis Johnson will proceed as scheduled using the correct boundary lines. The other flawed primary, between Republicans for the Position 4 seat, was a blowout, the outcome of which was unaffected by the error.

“I am pleased that the election that is in progress continues,” Lee said after the hearing.

Johnson called Lee’s position “disingenuous,” saying it would disenfranchise 1,400 voters who should have been able to vote in the May primary, but could not because the contest did not appear on their ballots.

“The 1,400 votes that could be counted would clearly favor me by making me the clear-cut winner. I believe I am the winner,” said Johnson, who got 49.5 percent of the vote in May to Lee’s 40.6 percent.

That’s what I’d argue if I were Jarvis Johnson, but let’s see what the numbers have to say. Johnson had 16,557 votes out of 33,459 cast in May (see here, page 21). Let’s take his figure of 1400 additional votes that should have been cast as accurate. There was a 13.60% undervote rate in that election, so we would expect 1210 actual ballots cast in that race, bringing the revised total to 34,669. Johnson would then need 17,335 votes for a clear majority, or 778 more than had actually had. That’s 64.3% of the 1210 extra ballots. I don’t have the statistical chops to calculate the odds of someone who received 49.5% of the first 33,459 votes collecting 64.3% of the next 1210 votes, but it seems unlikely to me. Unless you have some reason to believe that these votes came from a particularly Johnson-friendly set of precincts, it’s hardly a lock that he’d have won outright under a valid set of boundaries.

The lawsuit has not been dismissed; Judge Rosenthal will not rule on that until after all parties have submitted briefs on Friday and Monday. I prefer this to the settlement deal that had originally been proposed. What happens if someone files suit afterward is anyone’s guess; there’s no precedent for this that I know of. I hope we get a clear result, but at this point nothing will surprise me. Miya Shay and Houston Politics have more.

Keep Moving Houston Forward PAC poll on Metro and GMP

Yesterday I wrote about a poll commissioned by Houstonians for Responsible Growth on Metro and the General Mobility Program. That poll suggested that any changes to the GMP would be difficult for Metro to get, especially in the face of a negative campaign against it. Later in the day, I received the following in my inbox:

A telephone survey of 600 likely November voters recently conducted in the METRO service area shows that voters support a potential ballot measure ensuring continued mobility payments by METRO to local cities and the county, fixed at the 2014 level, by a margin of 67 percent to 24 percent.

The poll was commissioned by Keep Houston Moving Forward PAC, a group formed to pass a ballot measure this fall that will determine the future of the mobility payments.

METRO’s board is currently considering a number of options for the ballot measure; the option tested in this poll is a compromise put forward by METRO Chair Gilbert Garcia between those who want to discontinue the payments entirely and use the funds entirely for transit, and those who want the payments to continue without alteration.

“Voters in the METRO service area support safe and reliable public transit to relieve traffic congestion but are also concerned about the condition of their streets. The proposal we tested is a fair compromise that has strong voter support,” said Billy Briscoe, a spokesperson for Keep Houston Moving Forward PAC.

Here’s the poll memo that was included as an image in the email:

This is all the information I have on the poll. The HRG poll initially showed plurality support for capping the GMP payments in 2014, so this result is not a surprise. The higher level of support for that in this poll can be explained by differences in the sample, differences in how the question was phrased, random variation, or some combination of all three. The main thing it tells me is that it’s highly unlikely Metro will present an up-or-down vote on keeping the GMP as is or doing away with it. I mean, if even the PAC supporting Metro’s efforts didn’t poll the question – or did poll it but didn’t like the result enough to release it – that says a lot. At this point I’d guess the frontrunners are a cap-or-keep-as-is question or something more involved like the Spieler proposal. We’ll know more on Friday when the Metro board discusses the proposals that have been put before it. Houston Politics has more.

HRG poll data on Metro and the GMP

I mentioned on Friday that there had been a poll commissioned to measure voter attitudes towards Metro and the General Mobility Program. That poll was commissioned by Houstonians for Responsible Growth, and Joshua Sanders was kind enough to send me the polling data later in the day, which you can see here. On the key questions, a sizable majority says they would vote to keep the GMP, with a small plurality saying they would vote to put a cap on it. However, after being given what is known as “directed” information about Metro, a majority would vote against the cap, and attitudes towards Metro become sharply negative. The point to understand is that a negative campaign against Metro, which for all the good it has done in the George Greanias/Gilbert Garcia era is still not very far removed from the bad old days, would be successful and would likely do a lot of damage to them. You can relish or decry the thought of such a campaign, but none of this should be a surprise. People may like the idea of transit and walking to work and all that good stuff, but that doesn’t mean they’ll vote that way.

You may say “But Metro and transit supports can fight back with their own campaign!” That’s true, they can, and if someone wants to show me a poll with some differently “directed” messages in it, we can see what the potential for such a campaign may be. But where would funding for such a campaign come from, and how would it counter the villianization of Metro itself in a pro-GMP campaign? Those who want to keep the GMP as is have an easy target. They can make Metro the bad guy in all this, and it would be effective. What’s the strategy to counter that? Sure, there are plenty of bad guys on the anti-transit side, starting with Steve Radack and John Culberson, but the connection between them and the virtues of spending transit money on road repair is a lot more tenuous and harder to explain than “Metro hasn’t kept its promises and doesn’t deserve more money”. If you can’t see the train wreck coming (pun intended), I think you’re fooling yourself. Read through the slides, look at all the ammunition available to the other side, and tell me you don’t see it.

If it were up to me, I’d be happy to phase out or at least cap the GMP payments. But I have no desire to engage in a fight that looks like a sure loser from the get go, and I suspect that Metro will be thinking along similar lines. That’s why I like Christof Spieler’s proposal and think that it could be the basis for a compromise people can live with, or at least won’t be motivated to spend a bunch of money to defeat. It doesn’t move things forward as much as I’d like, but I’d much rather take smaller steps forward than risk taking big steps backwards. Your mileage may vary, and if you’d rather go all in on capping or killing the GMP, I certainly sympathize. I just don’t see what the path to victory for you is. Sometimes kicking the can down the road is the wisest course to take.

Land Board throws the Lege a curveball on school finance


In the waning days of the 82nd Legislature, state lawmakers came up with a plan to help cushion the blow of $5.4 billion in cuts to public education.

State Rep. Rob Orr, R-Burleson, proposed a constitutional amendment that he said could bring an additional $300 million to public schools. It unanimously cleared both the House and Senate. Orr’s measure became Proposition 6, which voters passed in November.

But that money has hit a roadblock on its way to public schools — and what looked like an easy fix for hard-pressed budget writers last May has turned into a headache that awaits their return in January.

The amendment allowed the School Land Board, which operates out of the General Land Office, to put a portion of earnings from investments on real estate assets into the Available School Fund, which along with property and sales taxes helps pay for public education. Last week, the little-watched board that oversees the state’s public school lands decided not to distribute the money. Commissioner Jerry Patterson, who sits on the three-member board, said it wanted to protect the funds for upcoming investment opportunities.

Usually the proceeds from the sale and management of public school lands would go into a $26 billion trust whose revenue feeds into what’s called the Available School Fund. Proposition 6 made it so the School Land Board, if it chose, could bypass that step and put money directly into the fund.

“We anticipated this funding for public education,” said Jason Embry, a spokesman for House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio. “We’re evaluating the impact on the budget and working with Commissioner Patterson to ensure there is no impact to public schools.”

Whether lawmakers should have expected the money is a matter of dispute. But the $300 million made it into the budget as part of general funds used to support school operations, contingent upon the constitutional amendment’s passage in November and the School Land Board’s approval of the transfer. During the special session last June, the Legislature added a provision to the appropriations bill that reduced general revenue funding to public education by $300 million if the amendment passed. It was to be replaced with the same amount from the Available School Fund with the board’s approval — but there was no provision to add that money back in if that didn’t happen.

“I was told that there would be $300 million going into the Available School Fund. Everything was put in place to allow to that to happen,” said Orr, who said the General Land Office agreed to transfer the money if the amendment passed. “I believe it needed to happen, so I’m not sure why it didn’t.”

Patterson said he did not recall committing to a transfer of the money and that his office had been unable to find “any evidence or documents or memos or testimony” that he did.

“I don’t have any control over what was written into the budget or what was made contingent. I don’t know who wrote that in there or why,” he said. “Somebody wrote a contingency rider assuming the answer would be yes.”

See here, here, and here for some background. If you look in the comments on those posts, you will see that Commissioner Patterson was never on board with this idea, so if the Lege was assuming that the School Land Board was going to go along with this idea, well, you know what they say about those who assume. I don’t think I realized till I read this story that the Lege had actually appropriated the $300 million based on that assumption; I must have been assuming that they would have made a supplemental appropriation at a later date once the Land Board signed off on it. Let that be a lesson to me. They’ll have to make a supplemental appropriation now, so you can add another $300 million to the Lege’s tab of unmet obligations from 2011. Good thing the Rainy Day Fund is full, because we’re really going to need it next year.

“Rather than trying a real solution to school finance they keep doing the little gimmicks and sleight of hands,” said David Bradley, the Beaumont Republican who chairs the Board of Education’s finance committee. “The Legislature is the problem. It’s totally improper for them to be pulling that kind of money out of these trust funds to use for general revenue funding.”

I hate having to agree with David Bradley, but he’s right. It’s on the Lege to fund school finance, and with the job they’ve been doing it’s no wonder we’re back in court a mere seven years after the last lawsuit was decided. I’m sure this seemed like free money to them – I admit, my first reaction was along those lines – and maybe that helped salve a bit of the guilt from having slashed $5.4 billion (and having voted to slash over $10 billion) from public education. But it was never a solution even if it did work.

Privatizing psych hospitals makes as much sense as privatizing prisons

Especially when it’s the same outfit doing the privatizing in each case.

Sixteen months after the Montgomery County Mental Health Treatment Facility opened in Conroe, the state’s first publicly funded, privately run psychiatric hospital is facing at least $53,000 in state fines for serious shortcomings in patient care.

The private operator, Geo Care, is a subsidiary of Geo Group, a private prison company that has drawn attention in recent years because of deaths, riots and sexual abuse at some units in Texas and other states.

Geo Care spokesman Pablo Paez declined to comment to the American-Statesman. Montgomery County Commissioner Ed Chance said all deficiencies cited by the state have been fixed.

Meanwhile, the facility’s construction, by a different firm, is the target of a separate federal grand jury inquiry.

The problems come to light as the Department of State Health Services prepares to privatize one of the 10 public psychiatric hospitals it oversees. If Geo Care bids on the ongoing privatization effort — and it has expressed interest to public officials in doing so — its work in Montgomery County could be a harbinger of what taxpayers can expect if a for-profit company wins control of a public state hospital.


Geo Group is best known in Texas for its rocky history in the prison system. In 2007, officials shut down the company’s Coke County Juvenile Justice Center in West Texas, citing unsafe and unsanitary conditions. In 2009, inmates at the Reeves County Detention Center, also in West Texas, rioted over the quality of health care and other complaints.

Although state records don’t indicate such extreme conditions at the Montgomery County hospital, State Health Services proposed in May that the facility pay a $107,000 fine for its deficiencies. Last week, the state tentatively knocked that fine down to $53,000, but the decision is not final.

“The facility is still getting its feet on the ground and is dealing with some startup issues as a new facility,” State Health Services spokeswoman Carrie Williams said. “We need to see improvements, and we’re giving them the opportunity to do that. We continue to work with them and expect them to get it right.”

Well, we’ll see about that. For this kind of privatization to work – for the privatizer to cost less than a state-provided facility and to still make a profit – there’s only two options I can think of. One is to cut corners and pay workers as little as possible. The other is to structure the deal with the government entity that’s paying you to do this service in such a way that the more business you get, the more money you make, then work to ensure that they give you as much business as possible. If you’re really smart, you’ve set things up in such a way that any losses you might have to incur due to business not being as brisk as everyone claimed it would be get covered by your government partner. We all know how well this has worked out for the jail builders and the counties that have gotten into bed with them. It’s hardly a stretch to imagine what could go sideways here. Grits has more.

Will the real Bikinis, TX please stand up?

My head hurts, too.

It’s a story confusing enough to make your head hurt.

The owner of Austin-based Bikinis Sports Bar and Grill announced last week that he’d purchased the Hill Country town of Bankersmith and planned to rename it Bikinis, Texas — but some nearby residents insist the tract Doug Guller acquired isn’t the “real” Bankersmith, and records from the Texas State Historical Association don’t seem to clear up the dispute.


Visitors to Guller’s property are greeted by a bright blue “Bankersmith, Tx.” sign painted high atop a house on the 1.6-acre site. There’s another, smaller Bankersmith sign over the front door. A rusty bus and a travel trailer are also on the lot, which is off Old San Antonio Road.

Guller wouldn’t disclose the seller or the sale price.

Rudy Klinksiek says Bankersmith is actually located on an adjacent piece of property his family has owned for generations. Klinksiek’s land surrounds Guller’s property on three sides, he said.

Both of the tracts are about 10 miles south of Fredericksburg and six miles southwest of Luckenbach.

Klinksiek, who lives in Austin, insists the property Guller bought is not part of Bankersmith.

“That’s totally bogus,” Klinksiek said. “I’ve told him I own the town. It’s technically outside the town. It’s not really far, but it is.”

Remember that episode of “M*A*S*H” where Hawkeye declared Rosie’s bar to be an independent republic? I think they fashioned a flag for it out of someone’s underwear, but the memories are a bit hazy after all these years. Anyway, that’s what all this is beginning to remind me of. Let’s cut to the chase here: Doug Guller bought a piece of land that he has announced will be called “Bikinis, TX”. There will be activities appropriate for that name and Guller’s line of business on that piece of land in the future. Why anyone cares at this point whether the piece of land he bought was originally the now-defunct town of Bankersmith or just some other piece of land nearby is rather a mystery to me. I think we can all move on with our lives now.

Weekend link dump for July 29

Homo sapiens were once close to extinction. If that ever happens again, it’ll be for very different reasons.

Who knew “Three’s Company” had lawyers?

The cows would want you to support marriage equality, Chick-Fil-A. Your statement about treating every person “with honor, dignity and respect — regardless of their belief, race, creed, sexual orientation or gender” is nice and all, but you don’t get to be “nice” when you deny other people basic human rights.

Along those lines, three cheers for the Jim Henson Company. And whatever your feelings on this issue, you might want to avoid Chick–Fil-A on August 1, unless you like long lines.

Science catches up with the Mythbusters and Cecil Adams before them.

Some people will go to greater lengths to help President Obama get re-elected than others.

Death of Facebook predicted. Film at 11.

Who said people who are in movies are more attractive than the rest of us?

As a math major I could have told you that hyphenation is exponentiation and doomed to fail as a result.

Five ways that airlines separate you from your money.

Clean energy projections are routinely lowballed.

I love a good customer service story. This is a delightful customer service story.

Who cares about the Constitution when you have the Articles of Confederation? It’s like the last 200+ years never happened.

Richard Nixon’s “Hispanic strategy” was way ahead of its time.

Even the people pushing voter ID admit that there’s no such thing as vote fraud by impersonation.

The Internet as we know it was made possible by the government. Just ask the people who were there creating it.

For the old school Dr Pepper fans out there.

RIP, Sally Ride. You were an inspiration to all of us.

“It’s a pretty straightforward recipe: Wrap a hot dog in bacon, deep-fry it, dip it in “bacon-bit-enriched” batter and give it another hot grease bath.” If you’ll excuse me, I need to do some research on local cardiologists.

RIP, Sherman Hemsley.

That Mitt Romney. What a card.

“We’ve suffered through so many phony gaffes, we’d forgotten what a real one looked like.”

Who wears the dead wolf snuggie better?

More girl Jedis, please.

Why does the Washington Post continue to employ a lying liar like Charles Krauthammer? Why do newspapers across the country print the words of a lying liar like Charles Krauthammer?

RIP, Inkblot. You will be missed.

No settlement deal for HCDE election screwup

Just as well, because this wasn’t a good deal.

A proposed settlement hashed out Thursday evening would have seen the Republican race – a blowout victory – stand, and the Democratic race – for which a runoff is under way – voided. In that race, the November ballot would list all three Democrats and the one Republican who filed for the Position 6 trustee seat. The leading vote-getter would win the seat.

“I am wholeheartedly in disagreement,” Harris County Democratic Party Chairman Lane Lewis said Friday. “If you’ve got the Democrats splitting their votes three ways and the Republicans only have one person to vote for, I don’t see how mathematically it would be possible for a Democrat to win.”

Lewis said if an unfair agreement is presented to the court, his party would be forced to intervene and file an injunction to block the settlement.

First Assistant County Attorney Terry O’Rourke said that proposal was outdated, adding that Lewis’ party will have to agree to any settlement. The goal, O’Rourke said, is to present a settlement to Commissioners Court for approval Monday morning, then take the document into court Monday afternoon. A judge could reject all or part of any agreement, he noted.

While I understand HCDP Chair Lewis’ concern, the split among the three candidates in May was 49.5 – 40.5 – 10, so it seems unlikely to me that there would be an even three-way split among them in a hypothetical November special election. Even if there were, Precinct 1 is Democratic enough that one of them might still prevail over the Republican candidate. But regardless of that, under this proposal we could be electing someone to a six-year office with no resign-to-run requirement and taxing authority with less than 30% of the vote. That ain’t right no matter who it is. I get that the county wants to avoid the expense of a separate election or runoff for just this race, but that’s too bad. We shouldn’t short-circuit democracy to save a few bucks. A solution I could live with is this: Hold the voting Tuesday under the correct lines (if the eSlates can all be programmed correctly by then) so that all of the in person votes and most of the absentee votes are correct, then see if the margin between winner and loser exceeds the total number of misplaced absentee ballots. If so, let the result stand; if not, proceed to a November special election and bite the bullet on a December runoff, just as you would for any other November special election like the SD17 special election in 2008. It’s the best we can do, and it might survive a subsequent lawsuit by whoever loses on Tuesday. If you’ve got a better idea, leave it in the comments.

Spending a little to save a lot

Remember HPD’s Chronic Consumer Stabilization Program, in which the police department attempted to deal with some of the people who interact with them the most often in a better, more humane, and more cost-effective way? Well, it’s been working.

Since the program began, run-ins between police and the top 30 chronic consumers have declined by 53 percent, as have the number of trips to the county psychiatric hospital, HPD officials said.

Based on that, City Council on Wednesday voted to double the program, expanding it to four case managers to keep tabs on 60 people.

The initiative was born of the 2007 fatal shootings of two people with mental illness by police in a three-month span. In one case, a woman entered the downtown police headquarters and lunged at an officer with a knife. In the second, a man wielding a pipe charged an officer on a street in southeast Houston. Police shot both people after Tasers failed to subdue them. Two years later, the police ran the numbers and MHMRA dispatched the case managers.

Wednesday’s unanimous vote to increase spending on the program to $256,000 this fiscal year was a formality after Councilman Ed Gonzalez, a former police officer, attached an amendment to this year’s budget to double the size of CCSI.

Gonzalez said the program protects people with mental illness, the officers dispatched for crisis encounters and the taxpayers’ wallets. He looked at the numbers police reported to Council and said, “There’s a lot of savings in those percentages” in avoided arrests, ambulance rides and psychiatric center commitments.

“That’s a much more effective and humane way of dealing with the problem,” Gonzalez said.

The International Association of Chiefs of Police recognized the program with its community policing award in 2010.

See this Grits post for further background, and this Malcolm Gladwell essay for more context. Projected savings in police, emergency room, and other resources was projected to be $500,000 for the first year of the pilot program, which has now been doubled in scope. It just makes sense to try to deal with the root cause of the problems rather than treat the symptoms over and over again. And it’s a beautiful thing to see it work and get expanded.

Beer is a job creator

Microbreweries are, anyway.

Craft brewing in Texas could add 52,000 jobs and mushroom into a $5.6 billion industry by 2020 if state lawmakers next year ease restrictions on breweries and restaurants that make beer on-site, a study prepared by the brewers claims.

That compares with the estimated $608 million economic impact that smaller, independently owned craft breweries made in 2011, according to the analysis made public Monday by the Texas Craft Brewers Guild.

“If you get a really vibrant industry going, with all the multiplier effects, to me it’s not unrealistic,” Brock Wagner, who founded Houston’s Saint Arnold Brewing Co. in 1994, said of the projected growth.

Wagner and other Brewers Guild members have already begun meeting with legislators and wholesaler groups ahead of the 2013 legislative session.

They are pushing for changes to the state alcohol code that would allow shipping breweries like Saint Arnold – which sell their product to wholesalers, who distribute it in turn to stores, bars and restaurants – to offer a limited amount of beer directly to consumers and allow brewpubs to package some of their beer for off-site retail sales they way they do in states with strong brewing industries.

Wagner said the changes would encourage more Texans to open breweries and help startups and established breweries alike by providing additional revenue that can be used to expand marketing efforts and reach new beer drinkers.

“Changing the laws will make many of these businesses much more viable,” he added. “If the law changes, we will change our staffing overnight – literally, add another 50 percent.”

We are well familiar with the microbrewers’ efforts to get the Lege to update its archaic and obsolete laws regarding beer distribution. I of course hope that the fourth time is the charm. I don’t recall them making an explicit economic argument for their case in years past; certainly, they appealed to basic free market principles, which the beer distribution duopoly most certainly is not, but I don’t recall jobs being part of the pitch. Of course, they didn’t have these numbers before now. Here’s more on that.

The Texas craft beer industry is having measurable positive economic impact on local and regional economies throughout the state to the tune of $608 million, according to the Economic Impact of the Texas Craft Brewing Industry study released today by the Texas Craft Brewers Guild. Texas craft brewers are also creating jobs, accounting for 51.2 percent of all the state’s brewery jobs, a remarkable figure given only 0.7% of the beer consumed in the state comes from Texas craft brewers.

The study, authored by University of Texas-San Antonio Economics Professor Scott Metzger, founder and CEO of San Antonio-based Freetail Brewing Co., also models how the economic impact of the Texas craft beer industry could reach $5.6 billion annually in just eight years.

“$5.6 billion sounds astounding, but given what’s happening across the country with craft beer, it’s not. It’s actually conservative,” Metzger says, calling the 2011 figure “the tip of the iceberg.”

“Given consumer demand and planned increases in capacity, a tremendous opportunity exists for ongoing and future growth — provided legislation may be passed allowing Texas’ craft brewers the same access to market enjoyed by brewers in other states and by the Texas wine industry,” Metzger says.


“In other states, brewers can sell their packaged goods directly to consumers through tasting rooms. In other states, brewpubs can sell their beer off premises, at festivals, for instance, and as packaged goods in retail stores, not just at their brewpub location,” explains Metzger.


“These sales opportunities other brewers benefit and grow from are lost for Texas craft brewers — and they add up.”

Download the entire report, official press release and supplemental materials here.

I have not had the chance to pore through these reports in detail yet. I suspect there may be a bit of puffery in there, as is often the case with studies like these, but the thing about a small population is that it doesn’t take much for it to have rapid and sizable growth. Further, the vast majority of microbreweries are startups, and as the CBPP points out, that’s where the job creation action is.

There is an emerging consensus among economists that young small firms — not small firms in general — are particularly important “job creators.” A 2010 study finds no systematic relationship between firm size and job growth, after controlling for firms’ age.[22] It thus is important to distinguish between startup businesses, which the study finds “contribute substantially to both gross and net job creation” (as well as to gross job destruction when they fail, as many startups do), and other small businesses, which on average generate no more net job growth than do larger businesses.[23]

Similarly, as CRS notes, recent research “suggests that small businesses contribute only slightly more jobs than other firms relative to their employment share. Moreover, this differential is not due to hiring by existing small firms, but rather to startups, which tend to be small.”[24]

So there you have it. Do your part for job creation in Texas and pick up a sixpack or two of your favorite microbrew. It’s the right thing to do.

Southwest prepares for expansion

Coming soon.

Southwest Airlines will begin construction next year on Hobby Airport international flight facilities, which the city approved in May over vehement opposition from United Airlines.

“I’m extremely pleased and thrilled that the Houston City Council cleared the way for Southwest to build a new five-gate international terminal at Hobby Airport,” Bob Jordan, Southwest executive vice president and chief commercial officer, said during a conference call with analysts and reporters after the airline announced strong second-quarter earnings.


Flights from Hobby to Mexico, the Caribbean and cities in Central and South America will begin in 2015, said Jordan, also president of Orlando-based AirTran Airways, a carrier Southwest acquired last year.

Good times. It’ll be cool to see what the new Hobby looks like and to see what new options for flying to these destinations there will be.

Saturday video break: “Love Hurts”

Song #58 on the Popdose Top 100 Covers list is “Love Hurts” by the Everly Brothers, and covered by Nazareth. Here’s the original:

I love the Everly Brothers and they can make anything sound good, but that’s not the song you’re used to hearing, is it? This is:

Boy, when the right song finds the right voice, it’s really something isn’t it? I can’t say it any better than Rob Smith did in this Death By Power Ballad column. Well played, indeed.

As Helena Brown turns

The soap opera continues.

CM Helena Brown

Houston City Councilwoman Helena Brown tried to coerce a staffer to go on medical leave because of her pregnancy, according to a memo the employee filed with the council’s administrative office.

Sandra Kim, Brown’s constituent liaison, wrote an April 23 memorandum quoting Brown as saying in front of several staff members that there was a “need to let Sandra go due to her pregnancy. Sandra, you need to go to your doctor to get medical leave, and I need to make arrangements for your absence.” Brown then “forced us to sign a document stating that I will need to go to a doctor to get medical absence or else we could not leave the office,” Kim wrote.

The memo did not ask for a remedy from the administrative office nor the city attorney’s office.

Brown did not respond to requests for comment.

Leticia Ablaza resigned as Brown’s chief of staff four days after the incident.

“I will back whatever Sandra Kim says. I am certain that it’s true,” Ablaza said.

Ablaza would not say specifically whether her departure was linked to Kim’s allegations, but she said, “I was not going to stand by while things were being done that I didn’t agree with.”

Chris Kuczynski, assistant legal counsel for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, would not comment specifically on the Kim case, but said, “Requiring someone to take leave when they’re able to work is a form of discrimination.”

Most of this we already knew from that Houston Press cover story from a few weeks ago. Ablaza’s comment is the main new detail. Ablaza has largely been quiet, at least publicly, about her time in CM Brown’s office and her reasons for leaving. If she’s about to start talking more, that will make things a whole lot more interesting.

According to the story, Kim declined to say whether or not she had filed an EEOC complaint, so we don’t yet know whether there will be more to this or not. But there was one other little detail at the end, relating to the matter of Brown’s staff all being part time and ineligible for benefits such as health insurance:

In an interview this week, though, Kim said, “I was OK with the part-time, but who wouldn’t want benefits?” Kim said she would have accepted city-subsidized health insurance if it had been offered. She said she currently is on her father’s health insurance plan.

This directly contradicts the claim that everyone voluntarily declined health benefits when offered to them. I have no idea whether Brown’s staffers share her ideology or not, but at least Ms. Kim recognizes a raw deal when she sees one.

There was more stuff from yesterday, but it’s just too weird. Go here, here, and here to see it all. If I were writing a novel and I included a character like Helena Brown, I’m sure my editor would tell me to ease up on the crazy stuff because no one will find her to be believable otherwise.

Congressional runoff stories

A couple of Chron stories about area Congressional primary runoffs for your perusal.


Sometimes [CD14 GOP candidate Randy Weber] mentions that he was designated the most conservative member of the Texas House during his two terms in Austin.

“We don’t knock on a lot of moderate doors, because my message doesn’t really resonate with them,” he said.


Felicia Harris, whose reserved, no-nonsense style is in sharp contrast to the voluble Weber, said she has been knocking on doors, as well – thousands and thousands, sometimes between 200 and 400 a day.

“Our grass-roots game is the same as it’s always been,” she said at her campaign office in a League City strip center.

The lawyer and former Pearland city councilwoman, a graduate of Texas A&M University and South Texas College of Law, said she has a more youthful outlook than her opponent.

“I’m 42 years old. He’s almost 60,” she said. “Nothing wrong with age differences, but it’s a different perspective.”

It is, or at least it can be. I don’t really expect that Harris would vote any differently than Weber – the story doesn’t mention any disagreements the two have on issues – so it’s all a matter of style. Weber’s style is apparently to only talk to people who already agree with him. Unclear if Harris is the same way or not, but I doubt she’d say otherwise in the heat of a primary runoff. Much better to vote for Nick Lampson in November and get someone who’d do his best to represent the whole district, wouldn’t you say?


If neophyte political candidate Stephen Takach was unaware that politics ain’t beanbag, as the saying goes, he’s fully aware now, thanks to his Republican primary runoff experience in the newly created 36th Congressional District with an opponent whose campaign strategy is unorthodox, to say the least.

Steve Stockman, 55, who served one term in Congress in the 1990s, spurns most public events and candidate forums and rarely talks to news media. Instead, he has blanketed the East Texas district with fake tabloid newspapers emblazoned with such headlines as “Stephen Takach drove family friend into bankruptcy,” “Gunowners Furious as Takach sides with ‘gun grabbers’ ” (Sheila Jackson Lee, Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi) and “Takach smears Stockman for taking care of his Alzheimer’s-stricken father.”

Takach, 50, said last week that he mentioned in a mailing that Stockman had declared bankruptcy in 2002. According to the account in Stockman’s “Times Free Press,” the candidate had to declare bankruptcy because he quit work to tend to his father’s needs – ergo Takach was smearing Stockman for caring for his father, “a World War II veteran who served his country fighting the Nazis.”

“The people that know me are just livid,” Takach said. “They are so upset.”


Most of Takach’s positions are doctrinaire Republican: against the Affordable Care Act, against amnesty for undocumented immigrants, for traditional marriage, against abortion.

He pointed out that he and his opponent hold similar positions on a number of issues – issues that are closer today to the tea party-infused GOP mainstream than they were when Stockman was in Washington. Back then, Stockman supported a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution, as does Takach.

What we learn: Being a better person does not necessarily make one a better Congressperson. As with CD14, and with every other Congressional Republican from Texas, there’s not a dime’s worth of difference between Takach and Stockman on the issues. Having not been raised by wolves, Takach will be less embarrassing, though even Steve Stockman may have a hard time outdoing Louie Gohmert these days. But that’s about all it means. Sadly, CD36 was drawn to elect a Republican, so there’s a decent chance Stockman will get his return engagement to Congress. You ought to get to know Max Martin anyway.

As of the end of early voting, no story has been written on the Democratic runoff in CD07. I know, it likely won’t matter in November, but if you wanted to highlight a race in which the two candidates did actually differ on some issues, and for which there’s been no lack of, um, material for a story, I don’t know how the Chron could overlook this one right in their own back yard. Finally, I have to agree with David Nir that the Democratic runoff in CD34 deserved a hell of a lot more attention than it has gotten. Unfortunately, I can’t claim to have done much about that, either. I sent Filemon Vela an email asking to do an interview way back when I first geared up for the May primaries and the Congressional districts had been settled, but he never replied. I didn’t try to contact Denise Saenz Blanchard, and once the May primary was over I was too busy and distracted to try either of them again for the runoff. I’ll try to reach the nominee for a November interview, but you know how it goes. The CD33 race has understandably gotten a ton of coverage, but this one should not have slipped under the radar.

On the NCAA hammering Penn State

I’ve been thinking about the punishment the NCAA meted out to Penn State earlier this week.

The NCAA has hit Penn State with a $60 million sanction, a four-year football postseason ban and a vacation of all wins dating to 1998, the organization said Monday morning. The career record of Joe Paterno will reflect these vacated records, the NCAA said.

Penn State also must reduce 10 initial and 20 total scholarships each year for a four-year period.

The NCAA revealed the sanctions as NCAA president Mark Emmert and Ed Ray, the chairman of the NCAA’s executive committee and Oregon State’s president, spoke at a news conference in Indianapolis at the organization’s headquarters.

“In the Penn State case, the results were perverse and unconscionable. No price the NCAA can levy will repair the damage inflicted by Jerry Sandusky on his victims,” Emmert said, referring to the former Penn State defensive coordinator convicted of 45 counts of child sex abuse last month.

The NCAA said the $60 million was equivalent to the average annual revenue of the football program. The NCAA ordered Penn State to pay the penalty funds into an endowment for “external programs preventing child sexual abuse or assisting victims and may not be used to fund such programs at the university.”

With the wins from 1998-2011 vacated, Paterno moves from 409 wins to 298, dropping him from first to 12th on the winningest NCAA football coach list. Penn State also will have six bowl wins and two conference championships erased.

The Penn State athletic program also will be put on a five-year probation and must work with an athletic-integrity monitor of NCAA’s choosing. Any current or incoming football players are free to immediately transfer and compete at another school.

The action was unusual in that there were no allegations of misconduct related to NCAA rules – recruiting violations, that sort of thing – so one could argue that they didn’t really have jurisdiction or justification for intervening. I’m pretty sure no one outside Happy Valley really believed that, however. The usual pushback on NCAA sanctions is that the punishment is being visited on current players, coaches, and students for the actions of past coaches. Here, though, the bad acts went well beyond the coaching staff all the way up to the top of the Penn State administration, and even with them having been swept out and arrested, it’s hard to argue that the school doesn’t deserve any sanction for the extraordinary long-term coverup and abetment of Sandusky’s crimes. My gut reaction is that this time it’s very much all right for the school and its supporters to suffer for awhile, if only to serve as a stark example to other schools that may someday face their own hideous scandal that they might like to keep from coming to light. The school’s culture and self-image were part of the problem, and as such it’s right to make that part of the sentence.

The one thing I don’t like is the erasure of 112 wins from Paterno’s and the school’s record. The NCAA does this routinely for various violations, and I’ve never liked it. I don’t believe in changing history after the fact, which is what this amounts to. The games were played, the players accumulated whatever statistics they accumulated, and there were winners and losers. We shouldn’t claim they didn’t afterward because we disapprove of the actions of one or more of the participants, however heartily and justifiably we feel that disapproval. The numbers are what they are, and we can judge the people behind them separately. I can understand the NCAA not wanting Paterno atop the list of coaching victories, but I don’t agree with their remedy. Leave the numbers alone.

Friday random ten: Let the games begin!

It’s the Summer Olympic Games! Pomp! Circumstance! Tradition! Overwrought personal stories! Athletic orgies! Ten songs about games!

1. Fool’s Game – Bonnie Raitt
2. The Name of The Game – from “Mamma Mia!”
3. Play The Game – Queen
4. Wicked Game – The Model
5. Cat’s Game – Greg Camp
6. Crazy Game – Indigo Girls
7. Evil Woman Don’t Play Your Games With Me – Crow
8. Game of Love – Wayne Fontana & The Mindbenders
9. Love Is A Losing Game – Amy Winehouse
10. Patriot Game – Black 47

And in honor of the Mitt Romney Gaffe-A-Lympics, which are happening concurrently in London, a bonus song:

11. Regretting What I Said – Christine Lavin

Let the Games begin!

Trudi Smith: What’s going on with Buffalo Bayou

The following is from a series of guest posts that I have been presenting over the past few weeks.

Transformation of Buffalo Bayou Park, one of Houston’s most iconic green spaces, is well underway. With an historic $30 million catalyst gift from the Kinder Foundation, a strong public-private partnership has been created to include Buffalo Bayou Partnership (BBP), City of Houston led by the Houston Parks & Recreation Department and Harris County Flood Control District. BBP has been charged with leading the enhancements of the 160-acre, 2.3-mile bayou stretch from Shepherd Drive to Sabine Street.

Likened to Houston’s own Central Park, the ambitious $55 million project will:

  • Restore the bayou to a more natural and self-sustaining version of what exists today
  • Reintroduce native park landscape
  • Add amenities to enhance safety and visitor experience

After two years of design and engineering, trail work is being constructed and additional improvements are slated to begin this summer. The entire project is expected to be complete in mid-2015. Here’s the Master Plan.

Buffalo Bayou Park Phase I Begins

Steps to Crosby Outfall along Allen Parkway just west of Sabine Street

Phase I work will be executed in two stages. The first stage includes a new pedestrian bridge at Jackson Hill, a new bridge and trails providing access to the Police Memorial, and a new footbridge, stairs and earthwork at the Crosby Outfall area at the intersection of Sabine Street and Allen Parkway.

The 345-foot Jackson Hill Bridge will be the first bayou spanning bridge to be built, and it will connect via a small plaza to the existing pedestrian bridge which crosses over Memorial Drive. Similar in aesthetic to the Hobby Center Bridge, it will provide a safe and convenient route for cyclists and pedestrians to cross over Buffalo Bayou. A trail connector to the east and a footpath connector to the west will also be added.

Improvements planned at Sabine Street and the Crosby Outfall will complement the existing trail into Eleanor Tinsley Park. The new footbridge will be 53 feet long and stairs will be upgraded to resemble those at the Sabine Promenade.

Phase I construction is expected to be completed by September 2013.

Harris County Flood Control District Begins Work at the Police Memorial

In August, the Harris County Flood Control District will start its channel conveyance restoration project. Work includes restoring the conveyance capacity of the bayou by removing accumulated sediment, repairing erosion and stabilizing bank failures. The District will also conduct selective clearing to remove invasive vegetation and, ultimately, implement a tree planting plan.

The District’s work will begin on the bayou’s north bank near the Police Memorial (north of Memorial Drive) and then proceed in seven phases to Shepherd Drive. This work will continue until late 2014 and is a continuation of the successful Pilot Project the District completed in 2010.

Overall, trail use in this area should not be heavily impacted. However, trails may be temporarily closed due to construction traffic crossing the trails. During these times, the construction contractor will have flagmen on-site directing pedestrian and vehicular traffic. Canoeists and kayakers should note there will be times when the bayou will be closed for safety reasons due to the construction.

South Bank Trail Closure at Taft & Allen Parkway

The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) and the City of Houston continued work on the 4.6-mile Sandy Reed Memorial Trail on the south side of the bayou at Taft and Allen Parkway, extending eastward to Sabine Street. Trail users: Please note that for safety reasons the trail on the south side of Buffalo Bayou at Montrose (on the west) and Sabine (on the east) will be closed through approximately October 2012. Trail users are asked to stay on the north bank trails or detour from the south across the Rosemont Bridge.

The Water Works Cistern

In early January, the Houston Chronicle highlighted one of Buffalo Bayou Park’s most fascinating features. Below the signature lawn being developed as The Water Works performance area, north of the existing Lee and Joe Jamail Skate Park, sits an unused City of Houston water reservoir. This 100,000-square-foot area has enormous potential. While there is currently no funding to develop the “Cistern,” as it has been dubbed, Houston-based SmartGeoMetrics has volunteered to produce 3D imaging of the cavernous space. Their work will help BBP accurately document the Cistern’s current as-is condition, conceptualize ideas for developing the space, and, with luck, facilitate funding. Imaging is expected to be completed by late summer. SmartGeoMetrics’ imaging will be given to the University of Houston’s Texas Learning and Computation Center (TLC2) who will vet a web-based public ideas process to come up with creative and sustainable potential uses. Stay tuned for details on this public ideas process!

Behind the Scenes: Familiar Faces-SWA Group

Front left to right: Jenny Janis, Jiyoung Nam, Josh Lock, Peng Xu; middle left to right: Clayton Bruner, Tim Peterson, Kevin Shanley (President, SWA Group); back left to right: Jake Salzman, Scott McCready, Michael Robinson; not pictured: Xin Sui, Alaleh Rouhi

Friends of Buffalo Bayou Partnership will recall SWA Group leading the award-winning Sabine Promenade Project. SWA Group is once again collaborating with Buffalo Bayou Partnership on the design of Buffalo Bayou Park improvements. As one of the world’s top landscape architecture and planning firms, SWA has designed countless projects in Houston and around the world. Their work includes revitalization of the landscape architecture of Hermann Park and framework planning for Houston’s Brays Bayou Corridor, among others. The Buffalo Bayou Park team is led by President Kevin Shanley, who has been involved in innovative flood management projects along a majority of Houston bayous. Rounding out the skilled team are Scott McCready, lead designer, and Tim Peterson, project manager.

For additional information on the Buffalo Bayou Park Shepherd to Sabine, click here.

To read more of the July/August 2012 In the Works e-newsletter, click here.

To sign up to receive Buffalo Bayou Partnership’s monthly e-newsletters, click here.

Trudi Smith is the Director of PR and Events for the Buffalo Bayou Partnership. The Buffalo Bayou Partnership is the non-profit organization revitalizing and transforming Buffalo Bayou, Houston’s most significant natural resource.

Here come the GMP proposals

At Metro’s board meeting yesterday, trustees presented their proposed ballot referenda for the General Mobility Program.

I still hope we get to have all this some day

“I’m anxious to see the outcome just like everybody else,” said Chairman Gilbert Garcia, before anyone offered their specifics.

As it turned out, city-appointee Garcia was one of only two trustees calling for a vote on capping the GMP at 2014 levels. However, Garcia’s proposal also allowed for the option of voting to extend the program until 2030.

City-appointee Allen Watson called for a vote to cap GMP until September 2030, but sought $200 million bond authority for partnerships on non-rail transit.

Dwight Jefferson, a city appointee, said while he, personally, favors a compromise, public comments had led him to call for an “up or down vote” on whether the 25 percent of 1 cent in tax revenues should still go to the partnering entities for road-related projects.

The two other city trustees, Carrin Patman and Christof Spieler offered proposals that would extend the GMP payments until 2016 and 2019, respectively. Another referendum would be held prior to the new expirations.

The joint proposal from the multi-cities trustees Burt Ballanfant and Cindy Siegel, and Harris County appointees Gary Stobb and Lisa Castaneda called for a vote on whether the 25 percent of 1 cent in tax revenues should still go to the partnering entities for road-related projects or be retained by Metro.

Houston Tomorrow put out a report from the meeting as well. Spieler’s proposal, which you can see here, deserves a closer look. For some bizarre reason when I copy from that PDF it adds a line break after every word, so let me paraphrase:

1. Extend the GMP at 25% of Metro’s sales tax through 2019, with each entity getting 25% of the revenue collected within its jurisdiction. I missed that last clause at first glance, but it’s a big deal and quite possibly a dealbreaker for the member cities, since it would benefit Houston and Harris County at their expense.

2. Metro would get another $640 million in bonding authority, the same as they got in the 2003 referendum, based on the 75% of sales tax allocated to transit and contingent on Metro being able to swing it financially.

3. Metro would continue work on the University Line from Wheeler Station west, with roadwork, utilities, and right of way being funded from Houston’s GMP allocation.

There would also be no decrease in bus service or increase in bus or rail fares through 2019. What I like about this proposal is that it gives Metro something in return for continuing to disburse 25% of its sales tax revenue. It allows Metro to take advantage of historically low interest rates, and gives them a way to work around John Culberson. The smaller cities won’t like it, and it’s unclear to me how Harris County would react. The city may balk at being required to commit any of its GMP funds to this project, even though the University Line and the Uptown Line that it would enable are keys to its own mobility future. It’s also unclear how the politics of this will play out once ballot language has been decided and sides have been chosen. One poll suggests that Metro would have an uphill battle to cap the GMP. This is in conflict with the latest Houston Area Survey that showed an upswing in support for transit, but supporting something in the abstract while opposing the specifics is nothing unusual, as anyone familiar with the polling on “the deficit” can attest. (I should have full data on that poll shortly and plan to discuss it more detail when I do.) If Spieler’s proposal gains traction, there’s certainly room within it for compromise.

Spieler’s proposal is one of many, and the board put off discussing them all until August 3, so we won’t know what we’re going to get on the ballot until then. As I understand it, it’s also possible for the board to simply re-authorize the GMP for another number of years and put off having a referendum until that time. The range of possible outcomes is still pretty wide, in other words. What’s your preference?

UPDATE: Here’s the Chron story, which doesn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know.

More than four, please

Not good enough.

On the right side of history

A majority of House Democrats have signed a brief to the Supreme Court opposing the Defense of Marriage Act (widely known as DOMA) — but not a majority of Texas Democrats.

Only four of the state’s nine Democratic House members joined the “friends of the court” brief. They were Sheila Jackson Lee of Houston, Lloyd Doggett of Austin, Charlie Gonzalez of San Antonio and Eddie Bernice Johnson of Dallas.

As expected, none of the Texas Republicans were among the 130 signers of the brief. But five Democrats joined them on the sidelines — Al Green and Gene Green of Houston, Henry Cuellar of Laredo, Ruben Hinojosa of Mercedes and Silvestre Reyes of El Paso.

Sadly, some of those names are not unexpected. Gene Green and Henry Cuellar do not have particularly good records on marriage quality. Silvestre Reyes‘ record is more mixed, as both he and Al Green are co-sponsors of the Respect for Marriage Act. (I couldn’t find anything relevant on Ruben Hinojosa in a cursory search.) In this day and age, with the President on board and the DNC set to follow, there’s no good reason not to oppose this anachronistic relic of a less enlightened time. Get on board, y’all.

Early runoff voting in perspective

Here are four numbers for your consideration:

Year Total votes =================== 2006 13,726 2008 9,670 2010 15,225 2012 14,778

The first three numbers are the complete final turnout figures for the last three Democratic primary runoffs in Harris County. The fourth number is the turnout for early voting through four days for this year’s Democratic primary runoff. We still have today’s early voting, plus Runoff Day on Tuesday, and any straggling absentee ballots that make it to the County Clerk between today and Tuesday. I’m posting these numbers (which you can see for yourself here, here, here, and here) because I’ve seen a fair amount of wailing and gnashing of teeth about the supposedly abysmal level of turnout for this runoff. I’m not going to claim that the turnout so far has been anything to write home about, nor will I claim that it’s anything but puny compared to the GOP total. What I am saying is that it’s far from historically abysmal, and in fact when you consider the unusual date, the lack of funding for the Senate race (the sole statewide race), the lack of countywide races, and the disproportionately small amount of media attention being paid to anything but the Senate GOP runoff, it ain’t too shabby. I’d certainly like to see more Dems do their duty, and if you haven’t cast your ballot yet for Paul Sadler and Erica Lee, I urge you to do so today or Tuesday. But don’t panic, and don’t despair. There’s no need for either.

UPDATE: As there were no statewide Democratic primary runoffs in 2010, I had forgotten there were Harris County countywide runoffs that year. I have added in those numbers to complete the picture. My apologies for the oversight.

How do you say “J’accuse!” in Korean?

Here we go again with the Korea kerfuffle.

CM Helena Brown

City Councilwoman Helena Brown on Tuesday accused Mayor Annise Parker of sabotaging her recent taxpayer-funded trip to Asia to promote direct air service between Seoul and Houston.

Brown joined Houston Airport Director Mario Diaz in visits to Beijing and Taipei early this month but did not meet with Korean airline officials. The itinerary originally included meetings in Seoul, but those were canceled shortly before the trip because Korean airline executives would not be available, according to a spokeswoman for the mayor.

According to a statement issued by Brown’s office on Tuesday, “the mayor did everything possible to undermine and sabotage the planned trip. Mayor Parker had no intention to cooperate in any capacity with CM Brown’s efforts to serve the constituents, as Mayor Parker continues to place political expediency above the responsibilities of public office to the great disservice of the Asian community and the Houston community as a whole.”

Parker spokeswoman Janice Evans responded, “Council Member Brown’s trip to Asia was handled the same as any other trip. The mayor’s assistant for international trade and development was assigned to help and provide support. The mayor even offered to help the council member in rescheduling the trip once Asiana Airlines sent notice it would be unable to accommodate a meeting.”

Emails obtained by the Chronicle indicate that members of the mayor’s administration provided Brown with an itinerary, assisted her with a visa application, selected and wrapped gifts to present to Asian dignitaries, made travel arrangements and prepared a briefing binder. The mayor also personally approved Brown’s travel authorization that estimated more than $16,000 for expenses.

Here’s the full statement from CM Brown. I have not seen any further response from the Mayor to this, nor have I seen any statement from others singled out by CM Brown, namely Andy Icken and Mario Diaz, so you’ll have to judge the allegations by your own evaluation of Brown’s veracity and reliability. (Turns out Mayor Parker is out of town, so well played on the timing.) One could attempt to be charitable to all involved and chalk this up as a series of miscommunications, but then one would have to note the irony of CM Brown, who dodges meetings with Mayor Parker and whose preferred means of expression is the written statement, complaining about other people not adequately communicating with her.

The working poor are pretty much screwed in Texas

These are the people that Rick Perry doesn’t care about.

It's constitutional - deal with it

Jose Gallegos’ company eliminated employee health insurance to save money, so when his gut started hurting and his skin took on a yellow tinge, he resisted seeing a doctor. When he finally went to the emergency room, physicians diagnosed stomach cancer.

Gallegos made too much money to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to buy his own insurance, so he scraped together what he could, and his wife, Andrea, took on three jobs. Just over a year later, at 41, he died, leaving behind four children.

Two years later, it was Andrea’s turn. A crack and sharp pain in her back drove her to the emergency room, where she learned she had breast cancer. It had snapped one of her vertebra. Now 45, she said the cancer remains in several other vertebrae, but at the moment it’s not spreading.

Families like the Gallegos stand at the center of a debate over President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul, which could have expanded Medicaid coverage to 1.3 million uninsured Texans. But Republican Gov. Rick Perry has said he will not widen the program because it would cost too much.

“It gets me mad,” Gallegos said. Perry “made a decision without us.”

Nowhere did Obama’s health care law hold more promise than in Texas, which leads the nation in the portion of its population that is uninsured. A quarter of Texans have no coverage, many of them families like the Gallegos who are considered the working poor.


Without a Medicaid expansion, the state’s working poor will continue relying on emergency rooms — the most costly treatment option — instead of primary care doctors. The Texas Hospital Association estimates that care for uninsured patients cost hospitals in the state $4.5 billion in 2010.

So at the 2010 rate, the cost of uninsured people using the emergency room, a cost paid by all of us in county taxes and higher insurance premiums, would be about $45 billion over ten years, as opposed to the $16 billion over ten years that Medicaid expansion would cost. Forget the $100 billion plus that the state would pull down from the feds to subsidize Medicaid expansion, how does this math make any sense?

Republicans have had complete control of state government since 2003, and in that time they have done nothing to deal with the issue of the uninsured in Texas. Indeed, they have made the problem worse by throwing a bunch of kids off CHIP in 2003; we’re still not back to the level of coverage we had before that. Now that the federal government has finally done something about this, they’re digging in their heels and saying NO. They say they want the federal money with no strings attached so their can design their own plan. Even if you believed they had a plan, given their long track record and their public comments about how expensive this all is – made without acknowledging the expenses imposed by their own inaction, of course – there’s no reason to believe their plan would do anywhere near as much as expanding Medicaid as is would do. Yes, it will cost the state some money to do that, money they’re currently making us pay by other means. The Legislature, God help them, may have to figure out a way to pay for it, just as they’re likely going to have to figure out a way to pay for public education again. The state has gotten by for a long time without having to pay for these needs. They’re running out of ways to get out of that obligation. There’s an awful lot of people in this state who have been ignored and made to suffer for a long time who will be a lot better off when that finally happens. Lisa Falkenberg and BOR have more.

County wants to keep its share of the GMP

No surprise.

I still hope we get to have all this some day

Harris County Commissioners Court made it official Tuesday, passing a resolution calling on Metro to keep a quarter of its 1 percent sales tax flowing to road projects.

The 5-0 vote leaves only Mayor Annise Parker backing Metro Chairman Gilbert Garcia’s proposal to cap the so-called “general mobility” payments so the transit agency can put more toward buses and rail.


Garcia said he expects at least two or three ideas to be presented at Metro’s meeting on Thursday. The agency will choose one proposal Aug. 3 and will craft ballot language Aug. 17.

County Commissioners Steve Radack and Jack Cagle and County Judge Ed Emmett said the status quo is unfair to residents in some unincorporated areas of the county who pay taxes to Metro but get few services.

“It’s long overdue for the citizens of the unincorporated area of Harris County to stand together and fight against the unfair Metro sales tax imposed upon them,” Radack said, deriding Metro’s light rail as “a choo-choo train.”

Radack said common sense dictates the mobility payments should continue at the current level, given that the unincorporated county is growing faster than Houston.

“We’re not even on the discussion of what would be the reasonable or right, fair, thing today,” Cagle said. “We’re just saying, ‘Hey, don’t move the ball further into the hole.’ ”

Even Commissioner El Franco Lee, much of whose precinct is inside the city of Houston, said he favors the status quo.

“We get a better return the way it is now,” Lee said. “My understanding of that cap change is not favorable to the unincorporated area.”

You can always count on Steve Radack to elevate the discourse wherever he goes. All due respect to Commissioner Lee, but I’m not shedding any tears for unincorporated Harris County. They get plenty of my tax dollars, and more than their share of transportation projects. Last I checked, most of us here in Houston won’t be adding a drive down the Grand Parkway to our daily routines. That’s life, and that’s the way this works. Commissioner Cagle is correct that we haven’t worked out yet what is fair or reasonable. Nor do we know yet what Metro will propose; some kind of kick the can down the road compromise is a possibility. The Commissioners have expressed their opinion, at least one member of Council would like that body to do the same, and ultimately it will be up to the voters to decide. I trust Harris County will be willing to abide by their decision, even if it’s not the answer they want. Houston Politics has more.

Texas blog roundup for the week of July 23

The Texas Progressive Alliance reminds everyone that this is the only week of early voting for the July 31 primary runoffs as it brings you this week’s roundup.


Rick Perry must love federal intervention

He sure does his dangedest to invite it.

Brought to you in part by a grant from the Federal Corndog Trust

Perry, a Republican, has vowed not to expand Medicaid and not to create an insurance exchange. Consumer advocates in Texas say the Perry administration has also been dragging its feet when it comes to insurance rate review.

To make insurance more affordable, the federal law requires every state to conduct a special review whenever a health insurer wants to raise premiums more than 10 percent. This rate review would help protect small businesses and individuals who buy their own policies. The provision went into effect last September, and since then, insurers made nine such requests in Texas.

But so far the Texas Department of Insurance hasn’t completed any reviews. Officially, they’re all pending.

In the meantime, the insurance companies can go ahead and raise the rates anyway. An insurer called Celtic, for example, has raised rates on three policies in Texas by 20 percent.

“We were growing increasingly frustrated,” said Mimi Garcia, organizing director for Texas Well and Healthy, an advocacy group that has been active on the rate review issue.

“They’ve been very unresponsive,” Garcia said of the Department of Insurance. “They have not returned calls. They have not returned repeated requests. And it really took having over 1,600 Texans signing on to a petition to say, ‘Hey, this is something we care about and we need to know what’s going on with this.’ ”

What does that mean? TPM will tell you what that means:

To protect consumers, the Affordable Care Act requires states to review insurance rate hikes above 10 percent and, if deemed unreasonable, compel the companies to justify them. Since the provision took effect last September, insurers have made 9 requests, NPR reports, and nearly a year later Texas hasn’t reviewed a single one, even though it accepted a $1 million federal grant for rate review. Meanwhile, state insurers are freely raising their rates, including one company that jacked rates by about 20 percent.

The law gives states the first pass at rate review. But if they are deemed by the administration not to have “an effective and timely” process, the federal government takes over. At this point, Texas is goading the Obama administration to move in that direction.

“Under the circumstances it seems like HHS needs to reevaluate whether Texas meets these criteria,” said Tim Jost, a professor of health law at Washington and Lee University.

As the government’s Affordable Care Act website explains, “If your state doesn’t have a Rate Review program, or has a Rate Review program that is ineffective, the federal government will conduct Rate Reviews in your state.”

Maybe Perry is just biding his time, as the TPM story suggests; perhaps he’s looking for some legal pretext to get Greg Abbott to file another lawsuit, or maybe he’s just waiting to see if the feds will blink. Maybe he relishes another confrontation for all the fundraising and base-whipping it allows him to do. Maybe he just hasn’t thought it all through, or has been too busy with other things to make this a priority. Any of these explanations are plausible, and there are likely others I’m not thinking of. But it sure is a weird dynamic, defying the feds by forcing them to step in.

Medicaid expansion isn’t just about hospitals

Grits has an insight.

At [last] Monday’s House County Affairs hearing, Chairman Garnet Coleman noted the irony in response to testimony by witnesses regarding the effectiveness of Veterans Courts, which are essentially mental-health courts aimed at current and former military members. Citing the example of a mentally ill veteran coming back from Afghanistan who, as a civilian, earned less than 133% of the poverty rate, Coleman noted such a person could essentially gain access to mental health services only by committing a crime.  (The Department of Veterans Affairs provides some services, but nothing like those needed for someone with a chronic, serious mental illness.) By rejecting Medicaid funds, said Coleman, the state would strip away options for indigent veterans and everybody else below the 133% threshold to access treatment services outside the justice system.

His comments got me thinking: The biggest implication for the criminal justice system from rejecting Medicaid funds really stems from the missed opportunity to attract billions (with a “b”) in new funding for mental health services that would be delivered outside the criminal justice system.

It may not be just hospital executives and insurance companies imploring Rick Perry to do the right thing, or at least it shouldn’t be. Whether that will make a difference or not is anybody’s guess. Read the whole thing and see what you think.

Who sets the standard for science?

I don’t get the fuss over this.

Many say students need to be science literate so they can innovate, compete and maneuver with the latest technology. If the United States wants to compete on the world stage, teachers and science lessons must evolve, too.

It’s largely with this agenda in mind that the National Research Council, states, educators and scientists are updating national standards in science instruction.

The Next Generation Science Standards involve identifying what all K-12 students must know in physics, life science, Earth/space science and engineering. It is a collaboration among the council, the National Science Teachers Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and Achieve, an independent, bipartisan education reform organization based in Washington, D.C. Once completed, the standards will be ready for adoption by the states.

“We want to make sure our students are going to meet the demands of the 21st century,” said Stephen Pruitt, Achieve’s vice president for content, research and development.

Talk of national science standards, however, is stirring a debate in Texas, where members of the State Board of Education say they don’t plan to adopt them anytime soon, in part because the state recently overhauled its science standards.

State officials are also concerned that Texas, by agreeing to go along with the standards, would surrender too much control to outside sources, possibly the U.S. Education Department.

Board member Thomas Ratliff said an overhaul would “throw professional development and teachers and students in an absolute freefall.”

“I just can’t imagine there is any likelihood or chance that it could happen,” Ratliff said. “I think the further away from the children the standards are developed, the worse they are. They have to be all things to all people.”


State board member Patricia Hardy of Weatherford said it is too soon to overhaul science education again, noting that it would cost textbook companies and other providers of materials.

Texas last reviewed its science standards in 2009.The contentious process drew national attention, and the board eventually adopted science standards that encourage study of all sides of scientific theories.

“If we were to jump ship and go over to this other [set of standards], we would have wasted a lot of time and energy,” Hardy said. “When we push back against national standards, it is not really the elements that are in the science standard we are opposed to. It’s the idea that we prefer a state-run educational system.

“We want the state to be responsible for education. That isn’t to say that we can’t take ideas and consider them,” Hardy said. “We don’t want the federal government telling us how to run the schools. They can tell us this is being developed by outside sources, but I don’t … believe the Department of Education doesn’t have its thumb on this.”

I sort of understand Ratliff’s objection. He’s right that the broader an audience there is for a set of standards the harder it is to get everyone to buy into it and the more likely that it will be watered down or overloaded with parochial concerns. But honestly, what is there to be gained by having fifty individual science standards? Biology, chemistry, and physics don’t vary from state to state. The downside to letting everyone do their own thing is that it opens the door for various local yahoos (*cough* *cough* SBOE *cough* *cough*) to impose their own whacked out world view. I’m not going to say that one size fits all, but I definitely see value in an effort like the NGSS to create a standard that states can emulate. Science isn’t subjective – someone needs to say what’s right.

To their credit, neither Ratliff nor Hardy is ruling out using what the NGSS has to offer. Unfortunately, that may not happen any time soon, since the SBOE just finished wasting a bunch of time and insulting everyone’s intelligence with its current science curriculum. This is a good example of why it is best to get things right the first time. Water under the bridge now, but hopefully we’ll be better placed to do it correctly the next time. At least we’ll have something to go by when we do.

Precinct 1 Constable runoff overview

Here’s the Chron overview of the Democratic runoff for Constable in Precinct 1 between Alan Rosen and Cindy Vara-Leija.

Alan Rosen

Rosen is an investor and a reserve major with the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, who has been a certified peace officer for 21 years. He spent six years with Precinct 1 in the 1990s as a full-time deputy and a volunteer reserve. Vara-Leija retired from Precinct 1 as a captain last fall after more than three decades.

Both pledged to perform a thorough review of the agency. Rosen says he will implement an ethics policy; Vara-Leija says she will form an office to investigate external and internal complaints and monitor staff behavior.

“I have valuable insight that my opponent does not. I did come from Precinct 1,” Vara-Leija said. “I know exactly where to go, how to take care of problems that I know are already there.”

Rosen countered that his broad experience – including stints at three constable precincts and the Sheriff’s Office – better places him to restructure the department. “It’s not going to be the same old cronyism that goes on down there,” he said. “I’m a candidate of change.”


Cindy Vara-Leija

Vara-Leija accused Rosen of misrepresenting his post at the Sheriff’s Office by not clarifying that he is a reserve. Rosen called that a “non-issue,” noting that reserves have the same training and arrest powers as full-time officers and that his training hours and patrol experience exceed his opponent’s.

“The sheriff himself does not designate the difference between a reserve or a paid person,” Rosen said. “I’ve arrested hundreds of felons.”

Though the Harris County District Attorney’s Office had been asked to investigate how some Precinct 1 deputies had received mail from the Rosen campaign – officers’ addresses are exempted from public disclosure – prosecutors have confirmed that Rosen was not the target of the probe.

Online, Rosen supporters have questioned whether Vara-Leija knew of Abercia’s alleged crimes while at the precinct.

“My responsibilities and my duties were to supervise and to make sure those under my command were taking care of the community’s needs,” Vara-Leija said. “Whatever was going on in the constable’s office, I was not privy to.”

My interview with Cinday Vara-Leija is here, and my interview with Alan Rosen is here. Unlike the Precinct 2 Constable race, the Chron has made an endorsement in this one, recommending Vara-Leija in May. I think they’re both good people and good candidates, so you can’t go wrong whoever you choose. As long as you vote, it’s all good in this race.

July campaign finance reports for Harris County candidates

You know the drill by now.

Office Candidate Raised Spent Cash Loans ============================================================ Sheriff A Garcia 47,025 41,900 357,818 0 Sheriff L Guthrie 70,176 75,646 33,075 157,000 Sheriff C Pittman 11,309 11,566 5,217 24,000 DA M Anderson 73,888 60,980 33,371 0 DA L Oliver 0 150 0 0 County Atty V Ryan 56,571 33,047 145,606 0 County Atty R Talton 7,250 17,359 2,020 39,250 Tax Assessor M Sullivan 2,900 24,126 1,966 20,000 Tax Assessor A Bennett 8,500 5,344 3,657 0 HCDE Pos 3 M Wolfe 0 0 9 0 HCDE Pos 3 D Trautman 6,674 1,722 8,849 0 Commish 1 EF Lee 307,025 199,407 3.2 M 0 Commish 1 C Maricle 0 4,085 3,520 2,500 Commish 3 S Radack 86,250 63,619 797,044 0 Commish 3 G McPherson Commish 4 J Cagle 16,850 36,738 178,700 0 Commish 4 S Hammerle 1,348 2,918 357 866 HCDE Pos 4 K Smith 0 0 31 0 HCDE Pos 4 S Mintz 710 2,000 506 0 HCDE Pos 6 E Lee 17,255 20,769 0 0 HCDE Pos 6 J Johnson HCDE Pos 6 BartlettPack Constable 1 C VaraLeija 32,264 3,056 13,404 0 Constable 1 A Rosen 54,811 69,130 16,600 0 Constable 1 S Danna 0 2,299 0 3,500 Constable 2 Z Guinn 12,275 2,669 9,637 0 Constable 2 C Diaz 9,950 11,748 28 23,337 Constable 2 C McDonald 0 2,013 0 0

My comments:

Some candidates do their fundraising through committees. These are the reports you have to check, their personal reports will show nothing. Such candidates include Adrian Garcia, Mike Anderson (I made this mistake with him before), and Jack Cagle.

I didn’t blog about this story about the colorful histories of Garcia opponents Louis Guthrie and Carl Pittman, so I figured this was as good a place as any to include it. I’m sure we’ll hear plenty more about it during the campaign.

Believe it or not, there was an actual debate between Mike Anderson and Lloyd Oliver. The mind reels. You can find links to footage of the debate here. I will note that Oliver did apparently manage to file a finance report this time, but it has not been posted on the County Clerk website as of this publication.

Vince Ryan seems to have learned from the example of his predecessor, Mike Stafford, who hadn’t raised much money for his 2008 campaign. I’d have thought Talton would have raised more by now as well, but then Ryan didn’t raise much as a challenger, either. That may just be how it is for County Attorney hopefuls.

Erica Lee not only has a July finance report up, she also has an eight day report, which covers the period of July 15 through July 18, up for viewing. She raised an additional $825 and spent $10,407 during this time period. Neither Jarvis Johnson nor JuLuette Bartlett-Pack, the GOP candidate, has a report of any kind that I can see. A. Robert Hassan, opposing Steve Radack for County Commissioner in Precinct 3, also has no report.

Cindy Vara-Leija does have a report filed, but like Oliver’s it is not viewable. As her filing date is given as July 16, I have no idea why this is so.

Chris McDonald is listed on the campaign finance reports page as being a candidate for Commissioners Court, but his actual finance report correctly lists him as a candidate for Constable in Precinct 2.

All right, that’ll do it till the 30 day reports. Is there anything in here that stands out to you?

UPDATE: Per the comments, I incorrectly identified A. Robert Hassan as the winner of the Dem primary for County Commissioner in Precinct 3. Gloria McPherson won that race, but like Hassan she has no report filed. The reports for Cindy Vara-Leija and Lloyd Oliver are now visible on the County Clerk site, and I have filled in the appropriate values for them. Still no reports for Jarvis Johnson or JuLuette Bartlett-Pack. Finally, in going over all this again I realize that I managed to overlook the Tax Assessor race in my initial roundup. I have included the totals for Mike Sullivan and Ann Harris Bennett as well. My apologies for the oversight.

UPDATE: Added in totals from Commissioner Precinct 1 at the request of Republican candidate Chuck Maricle. Commissioner El Franco Lee’s cash on hand total is $3,279,326, but I didn’t leave enough room in that column for a seven-figure total, so I abbreviated.

Precinct 2 Constable runoff overview

The Chron does an overview on one of the two Democratic Constable runoffs.

Zerick Guinn

The Democratic runoff for Harris County Precinct 2 constable asks voters to decide which type of experience they value more: law enforcement chops or time as a public administrator.

The 10 Democrats who sought the open Precinct 2 seat, created when incumbent Gary Freeman announced his retirement, have been whittled to two, with Precinct 2 Patrol Sgt. Zerick Guinn and former Jacinto City mayor and Precinct 3 reserve deputy Chris Diaz still standing.

Chris Diaz

The winner of their July 31 runoff, for which early voting starts Monday, will face Republican Chris McDonald, a Baytown police lieutenant, in November. Precinct 2 runs along the west side of the Gulf Freeway before hooking north, straddling the Houston Ship Channel between Loop 610 and Beltway 8.

Guinn, who has held five roles during his 16 years with the precinct, took 33 percent of the vote in the May primary to Diaz’s 17 percent.


Freeman called both candidates “good guys,” but he has endorsed Diaz, noting that he approached him first. Freeman said Diaz stands the best chance of retaining the seat in a precinct that is now 65 percent Latino.

Unlike outgoing Constable Freeman, the Chron did not see fit to make an endorsement in this race, as you can see from their complete list of endorsements. Why they skipped this race after picking up the HCDE and CD07 runoffs is something I can’t explain. I don’t live in Precinct 2 and I don’t know much about these candidates, so I have no opinion on this race; if you live here, please leave a comment about who’s getting your vote and why. I will note that as far as Freeman’s comment about “retaining the seat” is concerned, Precinct 2 is pretty solidly Democratic; according to Greg’s Political Almanac, Bill White got 58.3% of the vote in 2010, and Rick Noriega got 60.2% in 2008. If this race is close in November, it’s been a very good day for Republicans.

Runoff turnout

Who knows what to expect?

Texans are voting in July for the first time in decades, the result of a lengthy federal court battle over new political districts that delayed the primary from March 6 to May 29. The unusual timing of the runoff in the middle of the summer — when many people are on vacation or not thinking about politics — will likely drive down turnout.

High turnout [in the GOP runoff] could favor [Lt Gov David] Dewhurst, who began the campaign with more money and name recognition. But the delayed primary gave [Ted] Cruz a chance to catch up in both areas, leading to Dewhurst leading in the primary 44.6 percent to 34 percent, but not breaking the 50 percent mark needed to clinch the nomination.

Cruz had always said his goal was to force a runoff, where he felt his tea party base would give him the edge. Activist voters are more likely to vote in the runoffs and recent polls indicate the Senate race is neck-and-neck.

In the Democratic race, [Paul] Sadler was forced into a runoff, despite [Grady] Yarbrough failing to mount a statewide campaign. The results showed Yarbrough performing well in the Houston-Galveston region, the home of a famous but unrelated Democratic family named Yarborough. Sadler has yet to raise enough money to buy television ads and is relying on personal appearances to rally voters. Yarbrough recently failed to appear at a scheduled joint appearance in Austin.

This year’s runoff also includes an unusual number of additional statewide races. There are two Republican races for the Texas Railroad Commission and incumbent Republican Supreme Court Judge David Medina faces challenger John Devine. Those races should bring more Republican voters to the polls.

I’m not going to make any guesses about GOP runoff turnout or who it may or may not benefit. Burka drew a line at 825,000 votes – above that he thinks Dewhurst wins, below that he thinks Cruz has the advantage. All I know is that the longer this goes on the more ridiculous and awful the two of them sound. I don’t just mean awful to me, Democrat that I am, I mean awful in the way that a high-dollar fight between two candidates who don’t really have that many differences between them on policy matters and whose campaigns are stocked with people who have grudges against the other guy’s staff always is. Believe me, I’ve been there, I know how soul-crushing it can be. Good luck getting the taste of this one out of your mouths, Republicans.

Paul Sadler

On the Democratic side, my prediction is for something like 150,000 to 200,000 votes, which would be in line with the 2006 and 2008 runoffs. What raised my eyebrows yesterday was an email sent out by the TDP that was a comparison between Sadler and Yarbrough and made it perfectly clear without ever explicitly saying the words that the party was endorsing Sadler as the better choice. It’s highly unusual to see this, but I’m perfectly happy with it in a case like this where one candidate really is objectively a better choice. I mean, outside the case of someone who publicly switches parties, it should be non-remarkable for a party to support someone with a long and well-established history with that party over a gadfly who ran on the other team’s banner in the past. This is a race to represent a party; history, affinity, and involvement should mean something. Not everything, of course, but when one candidate doesn’t measure up at all on that score, what else do you need? Frankly, I hope the HCDP takes a hard look at the result from this year’s DA primary and gives some thought to taking similar action in the future where warranted. You may look foolish if it doesn’t work, but no more foolish than having a lemon on the ballot in the first place.

Here’s the Day One early voting totals from the Harris County Clerk. Republicans have accounted for about 75% of the total vote so far, and over 80% of the in person vote. I’m not going to make any projections based on this, and with only five days of early voting we’ll know soon enough how this goes. Leave a comment if you’ve already voted or plan to do so soon.