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September 12th, 2012:

Interview with Ann Johnson

Ann Johnson

Harris County has been a hotbed of interesting legislative races over the past decade, with five incumbents losing general elections in State Rep. contests since 2004. Two of those victories by challengers occurred in HD134. Trying to make the third time a charm is Democrat Ann Johnson, running against freshman Sarah Davis. Johnson is an attorney and advocate for children who won a landmark case before the Supreme Court than forced the state to recognize child prostitutes as victims and not offenders. Johnson is a cancer survivor and the daughter of a former State Rep and a former Civil District Court judge. If she wins, she would join Representative-Elect Mary Gonzalez of El Paso as one of the only two out GLBT legislators in Austin.

Ann Johnson MP3

You can still find a list of all interviews I did for this primary cycle, plus other related information, on my 2012 Harris County Primary Elections page and my 2012 Texas Primary Elections page, which I now need to update to include fall candidate information. You can also follow this blog by liking its Facebook page.

Not dead yet

As they say, reports of their deaths have been greatly exaggerated.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Don Sumners said Monday that he would not purge from the voter roll before the November election any of the 9,018 citizens who received letters from his office in recent days notifying them that they may be dead and are at risk of having their registrations canceled.

However, a spokesman for the Texas secretary of state, the office that generated the statewide list of about 80,000 voters, said Sumners’ move contradicts legislative directives.

“Our office has federal and state requirements to maintain an accurate and secure voter registration list. If any of those people are deceased, the law requires that they be removed from the voter registration list ,” Rich Parsons said. “Mr. Sumners’ decision would prevent that.”

The letters, many of which were delivered Friday and Saturday, asked recipients to verify within 30 days that they are alive or be cut from the roll.

Sumners, who also is the county’s voter registrar, said conversations with the Secretary of State’s Office convinced him the list of possible dead was too unreliable to act on until after the Nov. 6 election.

“We’re not even going to process any of the cancellations until after the election,” Sumners said. “Because we’ve gotten such a response from people that say that they are still alive.”


House Bill 174, passed last year, required the secretary of state to purge possibly dead voters quarterly using data from the Social Security Administration, Parsons said; the office long has used similar data from the Bureau of Vital Statistics.

“The process is nothing new,” he said. “What’s new is the use of the Social Security Administration’s death master file. The Social Security Administration, as I understand it, had made clear to our office that they don’t guarantee or provide any assurance of the accuracy of their list.”

The Secretary of State’s Office and local tax offices regularly purge dead voters from the rolls, based on information from several sources. In some cases, the voter’s birth date, name, or other identifying data is considered a strong enough match to death records to remove the voter from the roll automatically; when the match is weaker, the voter is sent a letter giving him an opportunity to prove he is alive. Last week’s batch mailing was unusually large, local and state officials said.

Perhaps the problem was with HB174, which passed with bipartisan support despite these issues. As with the voter registration restrictions that are being litigated, this bill got very little attention as it was being debated. State Sen. Rodney Ellis has some questions for the SOS about this that deserve answers. I just wish some of these questions had been brought up last year. We’ve discussed the challenges of registration purges before. This is another example of why they should be undertaken with extreme caution to add to the pile. I don’t say this very often, but kudos to Don Sumners for doing the right thing. I hope other county voter registrars follow his example if they have similar doubts.

I can’t be the only one who read this story and thought of this, can I?

You’re not fooling anyone, you know.

“Waiting for Godot” in Texas

I have three things to say about this.

“It’s only a matter of time.”

For more than a decade, that thought has provided solace to the out-of-power Democrats who dream of turning Texas blue, much like it was before Ronald Reagan won the state in 1980. The appeal for Democrats is obvious. If President Obama, for example, were somehow able to carry Texas and its 38 electoral votes, the electoral math would become very difficult for Mitt Romney.

A Democratic-leaning Texas may seem like a dream, but for years such a shift has appeared almost inevitable. The Hispanic population in Texas (38 percent) is the second largest in the nation, and it is growing quickly. The African-American population (12 percent) has kept pace with the state’s overall growth. And non-Hispanic whites have been shrinking as a share of the population.

In fact, sometime after 2000, non-Hispanic whites became a minority in the state. They now make up just 45 percent of the population, making Texas the only majority minority state that reliably votes Republican.

Yet, for all the talk of a politically competitive state, the Republican grip on Texas has never loosened.

“We’ve had this discussion for 10 years now, and nothing has changed,” Mr. Miller said.

“There’s been a ‘Waiting for Godot’ nature in terms of Democrats and Latinos here,” Mr. Henson said.

1. I just don’t know how much value there is in trying to predict Texas’ electoral future right now, because the evidence is muddled or lacking. No two elections of the past decade were remotely similar, so there are no patterns to discern. Polling data is a joke – if you look at the Five Thirty Eight projection for Texas, the three samples being used are the two bizarrely-screened UT/TT polls, which project a Romney blowout, and a PPP poll showing a much closer race, one that looks a lot like 2008. No poll is more recent than May. We may not have any idea what Texas will look like until voting actually begins. If Obama can get the margin to under ten points, which requires an improvement of less than two points on his part over 2008, I think we’ll be having a much different discussion than what we’re having now. If not, then it’ll be much harder for people like me to refute the conventional wisdom.

2. Silver’s observation that as Tarrant County goes, so goes Texas is spot on, at least as far as 2008 went:

Obama McCain ======================== Texas 43.68% 55.45% Tarrant 43.73% 55.43%

Hard to argue with that. Again, I’ll be very interested to see how it looks this year.

3. I maintain that money is a key part of the equation here, and I find myself puzzled at the animus that some folks have to this. If we believe that doing the same thing over and over again in hope of a different result is ill-advised, then I would maintain that trying to win elections while hopelessly outgunned financially is something we have already decisively shown to be a bad idea. The hard work of organizing, identifying and registering new voters, then getting them to the polls, is not going to be done by an army of volunteers. It’s going to take permanent, paid, professional staff to do that. Communicating a message takes money, too. I’m fully aware of the corrosive effects of money in politics. I’d love to see more public financing available for qualified candidates, and I’d love to see far more restrictions on PACs and corporate contributions, but as long as Citizens United is the law of the land I have no idea how to achieve that, and I refuse to unilaterally disarm in the meantime. Last I checked, even Green Party candidates were holding fundraisers – I know, because I’ve been invited to at least two of them – so it’s not really a question of whether or not money is needed. I want the national Democratic party to spend money in Texas, which some people think may be on the horizon, and I make no apologies for that.

MFU Houston

From the inbox:

The Houston Mobile Food Unit (MFU) Collective will present City Council Members with stakeholder-driven Ordinance changes in September, which will further promote business growth and entrepreneurship in Houston.

The proposed Ordinance changes will eliminate the 60-foot distance between Mobile Food Units; allow 1 propane (LP) permit to cover multiple locations; provide access to existing seating areas and provide limited seating of their own; lift the LP ban within the District of Limitations, opening up the downtown area for service.

“Currently, propane use is restricted in Houston’s central business district, which limits most mobile food units from operating in the area. MFUs attract crowds and bring activity to the areas they occupy; the proposed Ordinance provides a unique opportunity to revitalize and reenergize spaces that could benefit from increased activity,” said Joanna Torok, co-owner of Oh my! Pocket Pies.

You can read the full press release here. The specifics of what they want are on their webpage.

Eliminate 60-foot distance between trucks.
Requires change to Fire Code, Section 10.11.12 and amendment to City Ordinance No. 2006-826

One Liquid Propane (LP) permit to cover multiple locations.
Requires change to Fire Code, Section 10.10.2

Ability to park next to existing seating.
Requires change to Mobile Food Health Code

Allow units to provide limited seating of their own, up to 3 tables and 6 chairs.
Requires change to Mobile Food Health Code

Lift the current LP restrictions in the District of Limitations 1:
Allow up to 40lb. LP tank + private property access. Requires changes to LSB standard 10, section 10.3.1

We’ve heard about these ideas before, in November when the city of San Antonio was preparing to loosen its regulations on mobile food vendors and last March when Lisa Gray wrote about the subject. One item that I don’t see on the wish list is the requirement that vendors have to bring their trailers to a city-approved “commissary” on a daily basis to be hosed down and inspected. I don’t know if that’s because this has already been changed or if the MFU Houston folks consider these other items to be higher priorities. In any event, I support this effort and wish them the best of luck. See here for further information about MFU Houston, see their Facebook page for ways to get involved, and see CultureMap and Houston Politics for more.

UPDATE: The Chron gets on board with this.