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January 22nd, 2014:

Interview with Azuwuike Okorafor

Azuwuike Okorafor

Azuwuike Okorafor

As previously noted, there are two contested Democratic primaries for State House seats in Harris County. Challenging Rep. Alma Allen in HD131 is Azuwuike Okorafor. Okorafor is a Houston native and graduate of HISD schools who received a BS from Texas Tech and a law degree from TSU. During his law career, he worked for a civil rights litigation firm, and is now an Equal Employment Opportunity consultant for businesses. Though he is a newcomer to the political scene here, he was active with the Tech Student Democrats in college. We discussed his background, reasons for running, and a variety of issues in the interview.

You can see all of my interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2014 Election page.

January finance reports for Democratic statewide candidates

BagOfMoney

With the exception of a stray missing report here and there, all of the January campaign finance reports for state office holders and seekers are up on the Texas Ethics Commission webpage. Here’s a brief look at the reports filed by Democratic candidates for statewide offices. I already have reports for the candidates in contested primaries on my 2014 Election page, so this is a chance to look at the uncontested candidates as well.

Governor

Wendy Davis
Wendy Davis SPAC
Wendy Davis GPAC

Ray Madrigal – No report

As you’ve probably read by now, Wendy Davis filed three campaign reports – basically, the first one is her previously existing Senate account, to which people were contributing before her official announcement that she was running for Governor; the second is her special purpose PAC account for her gubernatorial campaign, similar to the “Friends Of” or “Texans For” PACs that Republicans often use; and the joint Battleground Texas PAC that has gotten every Republican’s panties in a wad. I’m not going to rehash any of that, I’m just going to note with amusement that her total must have really freaked them out to have reacted so strongly instead of just pointing to Greg Abbott’s bottom line, which is enough to make Switzerland salivate. Davis certainly answered the question about her ability to raise the funds she’ll need, but once won’t be enough. She’ll need to post similar, if not better, numbers for July. But we’ll worry about that another day.

Lt. Governor

Leticia Van de Putte
Leticia Van de Putte SPAC

As with Wendy Davis, the first account is the pre-existing Senate account, and the second is for the Lite Guv race. Here are the details from each:

Account Raised Spent Cash on hand ========================================== Senate $154,087 $177,799 $235,084 LG SPAC $290,514 $ 21 $251,756 Total $445,601 $177,820 $486,840

I presume all of the expenditures came out of the Senate account, which makes sense. The SPAC was created on November 23, so basically it represents five weeks’ worth of fundraising, which isn’t too shabby. I didn’t go through its contributions, but I did go through the expenses for the Senate account, and I did not see any transfers from the one to the other, so that $290K figure is accurate and as far as I know doesn’t include redundant funds. For five weeks during the Thanksgiving/Christmas period, that’s a decent total, which would project to $1.5 million to $2 million at that pace for the July report. Not bad as I say, but not really enough, either. LVdP doesn’t need to be in Wendy’s league, but she does need to have enough to do some real statewide outreach. If she doesn’t raise at least $5 million for July, I’d be concerned she won’t be able to do that. On the plus side, she can hit up Wendy’s supporters, including and especially the big-dollar ones. I feel confident that she is more than up to this challenge, but if you’ve donated to Wendy and not to Leticia, you need to rectify that.

Attorney General
Comptroller

Sam Houston
Mike Collier

Account Raised Spent Cash on hand ========================================== Houston $184,595 $ 41,216 $153,678 Collier $213,518 $170,791 $439,015

I put these two together, because they’re the only other candidates to report significant fundraising totals. Houston’s report begins in October, whereas Collier had the whole six month period in which to raise money. Both did pretty well, with Collier’s totals being boosted by $400K in loans ($250K from himself, $150K from his company; Houston reported $10K in loans as well). Collier spent $30K on video production, and $50K on “website design and video advertising”; he also spent many thousands on consultant fees, which I didn’t add up. As Van de Putte needs to kick it up by an order of magnitude this period, so do these two. I’d be happy with $2 million raised from each. We know the base is big enough to support Wendy’s campaign, and I’m confident that support will extend to LVdP. Will it reach this far? I hope so.

Ag Commissioner
Land Commissioner
Railroad Commissioner

Kinky Friedman
Hugh Fitzsimons
Jim Hogan

John Cook

Steve Brown
Dale Henry

Account Raised Spent Cash on hand ========================================== Kinky $26,416 $ 4,256 $22,159 Fitz $27,200 $ 6,549 $74,401 Hogan $ 0 $ 3,750 $ 0 Cook $13,153 $17,010 $ 0 Brown $ 4,455 $ 5,661 $ 0 Henry $ 0 $ 0 $ 0

Not a whole lot to say here. Fitzsimons had $50K in loans, and Cook, the former Mayor of El Paso, had a bit more than $19K in loans. I’m not exactly sure why neither Cook nor Brown reported any cash on hand, but it’s not that important. With the exception of Kinky, none of these folks will have much in the way of name recognition in November, but then neither will any of their opponents other than Baby Bush. From this point on, it’s all about the top of the ticket.

Supreme Court
Court of Criminal Appeals

William Moody
Larry Meyers
Gina Benavides

John Granberg

Account Raised Spent Cash on hand ========================================== Moody $ 7,500 $ 9,358 $ 4,037 Meyers $ 1,000 $ 3,750 $ 441 Benavides $ 2,500 $ 3,750 $ 0 Granburg $ 780 $ 5,296 $ 780

Again, not much to say here. I thought Larry Meyers might have a few bucks stashed away just due to his longevity, but apparently not. He does have about $94K in outstanding loans, presumably money he has already spent. In case you’re wondering, that $3,750 figure you see is the filing fee. Again, these races are determined by the top of the ticket more than anything else. Maybe the state party will raise some money to campaign for the slate as a whole.

That’s it for these reports. I’ll look at others as we go along.

On pot and prosecutions

I’m sure you’ve heard about President Obama’s remarks that marijuana isn’t really more harmful than alcohol. There’s plenty of evidence to back that assertion, but Harris County DA Devon Anderson strongly disagreed with him anyway.

Zonker

President Barack Obama’s recently published remarks calling marijuana less dangerous than alcohol has prompted Harris County’s District Attorney to release a response today which bolsters her profile as a “law and order” prosecutor.

“I adamantly disagree with the President. According to a 2012 Drug Use and Health survey, marijuana is the number one drug that citizens over the age of 12 are addicted to or abuse. The negative effects of marijuana use on a developing brain can be permanent, and our President is recklessly giving what amounts to parental permission to our most impressionable citizens to break the law. Marijuana is creating deadly situations right here in Harris County,” Devon Anderson said in the news release.

[…]

“I welcome the President to come to Houston to review the same capital murder cases I did just last week that were the result of marijuana drug deals,” Anderson’s statement said. “Maybe then he will see that the most effective way to keep our law-abiding citizens safe is to obey all laws that our legislators put on the books at our State Capitol.”

You can see her full statement here. Again, the evidence is overwhelmingly with President Obama on this, and I’d recommend you read folks like Mark Kleiman for some current research on drugs, alcohol and crime – start with this WaPo interview, or go read his blog, for which he is not the only author. For this particular piece, I’m going to outsource the argument to Mark Bennett. But seriously, in terms of crime and social costs, it’s more correct to say that President Obama understated the case than that he overstated it.

The Chron also asked both Democratic candidates for their reaction. I’ll skip Lloyd Oliver’s rambling answer and go right to the good stuff.

Ogg, a former Harris County prosecutor now in private practice, supports diversion programs for people apprehended with small amounts of pot.

“In 2013, more than 12,000 people were arrested for marijuana and sent to jail in Harris County at a cost of more than $4 million,” she said. “Marijuana is illegal in Texas but jailing offenders in possession of small amounts is a waste of taxpayer dollars. Instead, those funds should be spent prosecuting violent offenders, gang members and thieves. It makes more sense to divert that group of offenders to voluntary work programs that make them more employable and don’t result in license suspensions, time in jail and other factors that cause them to lose their jobs or become less employable.”

[…]

Ogg, the former director of the city of Houston’s anti-gang task force and former executive director of Crime Stoppers of Houston has concluded – after 26 years in public safety work – that tougher marijuana enforcement isn’t what people want.

“They want to be safe. They want our focus and attention on the dangerous criminals,” she said. “There aren’t enough resources in Harris County nor is it fair to make people lose their jobs over minor offenses like possession of marijuana in small quantities.”

Ogg talked about this at length in the interview she did with me. Obviously, I agree with her perspective on this. I think she’ll have a lot of voters on her side for it as well. While I don’t expect anything to happen next session, or the session after that, there will continue to be legislative attempts to dial back penalties for pot smoking. As with many other things, we can get ahead of the curve, or we can scramble to catch up. Seems a pretty clear choice to me.

School finance retrial, Day One

And they’re off, again.

Back in the courtroom after a 2013 legislative session in which lawmakers added money back to the state public education budget, lawyers representing nearly two-thirds of Texas school districts argued on Tuesday that the funding boost was short term, and that other changes had increased costs for schools.

“Any and all funding changes are temporary at best. There is absolutely no requirement they be in existence beyond the year 2015,” said Rick Gray, a lawyer for the Equity Center, which represents about 400 school districts, the bulk of them poor, in the sprawling litigation that involves five other parties. “It was an exceedingly small step in the right direction.”

Implementing complex new high school curriculum requirements, he said, including hiring more school counselors and broadening vocational education options, had imposed additional expenses on districts.

[…]

On Tuesday, school districts rejected any suggestion that legislative changes had weakened their argument.

“The state can’t dumb down its constitutional obligations and say that perhaps students aren’t held to same college-ready standards as they were previously,” said attorney David Hinojosa, referring to the new high school graduation standards.

But state lawyer Shelley Dahlberg said that all but a handful of districts met the state’s accountability standards and that student performance remained constant even in the face of budget cuts.

The new laws passed in 2013, she said, only improved an already consitutional system.

“School districts asked for and received more discretion and flexibility on every level,” she said.

Which doesn’t mean they got enough, of course. The state had argued that the post-2011, pre-2013 system was just fine as it was, so obviously they think the partial restoration of the drastic cuts from 2011 was manna from heaven. I don’t think the Lege did nearly enough, and I don’t think Judge Dietz will think the Lege did enough. Whether the Supreme Court thinks the Lege did enough is another question. Not that they have to get involved, however – his assertions to the contrary, AG Greg Abbott could try to settle the case instead of litigating it to the bitter end. Needless to say, I don’t think he’ll do that. I look forward to reading Judge Dietz’s opinion. Better Texas Blog has more.