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November 5th, 2015:

Initial day-after-election thoughts

– We now have two cycles’ worth of data to suggest that having more good candidates in a Council race does not necessarily lead to better outcomes. Following in the footsteps of At Large #3 in 2013, a handful of Democratic candidates in At Large #1 split the vote with sufficient closeness to keep them all out of the runoff. The votes were there, they just went too many places. Lane Lewis + Tom McCasland = candidate in the runoff, pretty close to Mike Knox in total. Lane Lewis + Tom McCasland + Jenifer Pool = leading candidate going into the runoff. I have no idea what, if anything, there is to be done about this. There is no secret cabal that meets in a back room to decide who does and doesn’t get to file for a race, and we wouldn’t want there to be one if there were. I’ll just put this out there for candidates who are already looking at 2019, when the terms will be double and the stakes will be concurrently higher: If there’s already a candidate in a race – especially an open seat race – that would would be happy to vote for in a runoff scenario, then maybe supporting them in November rather than throwing your own hat in the ring is the better choice. I realize that framing the choice this way turns this decision-making process into a multi-level Prisoner’s Dilemma, but one can’t help but wonder What Might Have Been.

– On the plus side, the runoffs have given us some clarity:

Mayor – Turner
Controller – Brown

At Large 2 – Robinson
At Large 4 – Edwards

In AL 4, Amanda Edwards faces Roy Morales, who caught and passed Laurie Robinson by less than 900 votes by the end of the evening. As for ALs 1 and 5, I’m still deciding. I said “some” clarity, not complete clarity.

– Speaking of CM Christie, if he loses then there will be no open citywide offices in the next election, which is now 2019. That won’t stop challengers from running in some or all of the other AL races, but it would change the dynamics.

– In District Council runoffs, it’s Cisneros versus Cisneroz in District H, which is going to make that race hard to talk about. Roland Chavez finished 202 votes behind Jason Cisneroz, who got a boost from late-reporting precincts; he had been leading Chavez by less than 40 votes much of the evening. Jim Bigham finished all of 28 votes ahead of Manny Barrera for the right to face CM Mike Laster in December, while CM Richard Nguyen trailed challenger Steve Le but will get another shot in five weeks. I’m concerned about Laster and Nguyen, but at least their opponents pass my minimum standards test for a Council member. That would not have been the case if either third-place finisher (Barrera and Kendall Baker) had made the cut.

– Moving to HISD, if I had a vote it would go to Rhonda Skillern-Jones in II. I would not vote for Manuel Rodriguez in III, but I’d need to get to know Jose Leal better before I could recommend a vote for him.

– Your “Every Vote Matters” reminder for this cycle:


Aldine I.S.D., Trustee, Position 1
=======================================
Tony Diaz                  5,813 49.98%
Patricia "Pat" Bourgeois   5,818 50.02%

Yep, five votes. There were 3,742 undervotes in this race. I have since been forwarded a press release from the Diaz campaign noting that provisional and overseas ballots have not yet been counted, and hinting at a request for a recount down the line. I’d certainly be preparing to ask for one.

– Speaking of undervoting, one prediction I made came true. Here are the undervote rates in At Large Council elections:

AL1 = 28.56%
AL2 = 31.02%
AL3 = 33.09%
AL4 = 28.35%
AL5 = 32.34%

That’s a lot of no-voting. Contrast with the contested district Council races, where the (still high) undervote rates ranged from 15.97% to 22.49%. See here for a comparison to past years.

– Meanwhile, over in San Antonio:

In a stunning outcome, Republican John Lujan and Democrat Tomás Uresti were leading a six-candidate field for Texas House District 118 in nearly complete results late Tuesday.

In his second run for the office, Lujan, 53, showed strength in a district long held by Democrats, narrowly outpolling members of two prominent political families.

“I’m still on pins and needles. It’s not a done deal,” Lujan said with many votes still uncounted.

In his low-key campaign, the retired firefighter, who works in sales for a tech company, emphasized tech training to prepare students for the workforce. His backers included some firefighters and Texans for Lawsuit Reform PAC.

Uresti, 55, a legal assistant, is vice chairman of the Harlandale Independent School District. With 35 years of community involvement as a coach, mentor and tutor, Uresti capitalized on his network of friends and family name — his brothers are state Sen. Carlos Uresti of San Antonio and Tax Assessor-Collector Albert Uresti.

“Democrats are going to pull together again to win this one,” Tomás Uresti said of the impending runoff.

A runoff between Lujan and Uresti would be Jan. 19.

Gabe Farias, son of outgoing Rep. Joe Farias, came in third, less than 300 votes behind Uresti. Three Democratic candidates combined for 53.3% of the vote, so I see no reason to panic. Even if Lujan winds up winning the runoff, he’d only have the seat through the end of next year – the real election, which may produce an entirely different set of candidates, is next year, and Democrats should have a clear advantage. Nonetheless, one should never take anything for granted.

– Waller County goes wet:

Waller County voters overwhelmingly passed a proposition Tuesday to legalize the sale of all alcoholic beverages, including mixed drinks.

Though Waller County is not dry everywhere to all types of alcohol, various parts of it have operated under distinct alcohol policies passed in the decades following Prohibition. The change will apply to unincorporated areas of the county.

“I’m ecstatic with the numbers,” said Waller County Judge Carbett “Trey” Duhon III, who had publicly supported the proposition. “… It’s a good result for the county and for all the citizens here.”

Supporters like Duhon have said the measure was needed to smooth over confusing, overlapping rules and to help attract restaurants to a county poised to benefit from Houston’s sprawling growth.

See here for more details. And drink ’em if you got ’em.

– I’m still processing the HERO referendum, and will be sure to dive into precinct data when I get it. (I have a very early subset of precinct data for just the Mayor’s race and the two propositions. I may do some preliminaries with it, but this data is incomplete so I may wait till the official canvass comes out.) One clear lesson to take from this campaign is that lying is a very effective tactic. It also helps when lies are reported uncritically, as if it was just another he said/she said situation. Blaming the media is the world’s oldest trick, and I’m not going to claim that lazy reporting was a deciding factor, but for a group of people that considers itself to be objective truth-seekers, they sure can be trusting and unprepared for for being lied to. As with item 1 above, I don’t know what if anything can be done about this.

– Bond elections and miscellaneous other things are noted elsewhere. Have I missed anything you wanted to see me discuss?

What the passage of the term limits referendum means

It’s a little unclear from this story.

calvin-on-term-limits-for-dads

The passage of Proposition 2 also means some current officeholders will be able to serve longer than the six years they originally signed up for.

Current freshman council members will now be able to serve two more 4-year terms, for a total of 10 years. Those serving their second terms will be permitted a final term of four years, for a total of eight years. Those finishing their third terms this year, including Mayor Annise Parker, are not permitted to run again.

[…]

Polls did show voters were more likely to oppose the measure when told incumbents could benefit, but there was no organized campaign on either side – aside from some radio ads and phone calls funded by GOP state Sen. Paul Bettencourt – and the ballot language did not detail the impact on incumbents. Ultimately, it passed by a wide margin.

Barry Klein, who was involved in the original fight to pass Houston’s term limits in 1991, lamented that his small-government colleagues were too occupied with other issues to mount a campaign.

“The citizens of Houston used to get four elections over eight years and now will get only two, and I think we’re all worse off for that. I really do think it weakens accountability,” Klein said. “The special interests will find it easier now because when they get their man in place they won’t have to worry about him getting replaced because of term limits.”

I don’t often agree with Barry Klein, but on this matter I do. I voted against Prop 2 because I think two-year terms for city officeholders are the better idea. Increasing the number of terms they could serve is to me the much better idea, but that’s not what was on the ballot. We can argue all we want about how much voters understood Prop 2, but first let’s be clear on what this does mean, because the wording of this story is confusing. Searching my archives, I found this story from August, when the term limits item was put on the ballot. Here’s the key paragraph:

The change, if passed, would take effect for officials elected this fall. Current freshman council members could pick up two four-year terms and those serving their second term would be permitted one four-year term. Elected officials who are already term-limited would not be affected by the change.

So the next municipal election will be in 2019, and at this point all terms have become four years. Anyone elected for the first time this year – Greg Travis, for example – can run again in 2019 and serve a total of eight years. Council members elected to their third term this year, like Jerry Davis and Ellen Cohen, can serve until 2019, also for a total of eight years. This is why the original idea was to not put the change into effect until 2020, so no current members would get extra time. And the real lucky duckies, the people who were first elected in 2013, like Michael Kubosh, can run again in 2019, and if he wins he will get to serve a total of 10 years.

So. Did you know this going in? I admit, I didn’t, but then I was always a No vote on Prop 2, so this particular detail more or less didn’t matter to me. If you voted for Prop 2, does seeing this change your mind?

One side effect of this change, which I doubt has received any consideration, is that the turnout level in HISD and HCC elections will vary dramatically in years with and without city elections. How many voters do you think will show up for Trustee races in 2017 if there are no Mayor or Council races on the ballot? I mentioned this as a potential problem for the idea of moving city elections to even years, and it’s as true here. I suppose that’s not the city’s problem, and if anyone in HISD thought about it they didn’t think loudly enough for the rest of us to hear, but there it is. What effect might this have in the off-year odd-numbered elections? Other than lower turnout, hard to say. Maybe it makes it easier for upstarts to get traction, maybe it helps incumbents stay entrenched. We’ll just have to see.

Paxton moves to dismiss the charges against him

To be expected.

Best mugshot ever

[Ken] Paxton’s legal team announced late Monday it had filed six motions to quash the three indictments against him, citing problems with the grand jury process. They also raised other objections to the case in four pretrial applications for writ of habeas corpus.

A Collin County grand jury indicted Paxton earlier this year on charges of misleading investors in a technology company before he was attorney general. Paxton pleaded not guilty.

Paxton’s legal team has raised the prospect that the grand jury was “empaneled in a matter inconsistent with law.” Last month, his lawyers won access to information related to the makeup of the panel.

The special prosecutors handling the indictments have maintained “absolutely nothing improper” happened in the formation of the grand jury. In a statement late Friday, special prosecutor Brian Wice said the motions to quash are “so clearly baseless, neither merits comment.”

A copy of the motions can be found at the DMN Scoop blog, which contains some other interesting tidbits.

Among the allegations in the motion to quash are that [District Judge Chris] Oldner [who oversaw the selection of the grand jurors in Collin County who indicted Paxton] breached the secrecy of the grand jury process by telling his wife that Paxton had been indicted. His wife, Cissy Oldner, then told Collin County commissioner Susan Fletcher about the sealed indictments, according to allegations in the defense’s motion.

Oldner also is accused of entering the grand jury room two separate times during the July 7 session when Paxton was indicted on the charge of failing to register as a securities agent. The defense team also states that Oldner improperly held onto that July 7 indictment until July 28.

The judge, who ultimately recused himself from the case, also issued warrants for Paxton’s arrest rather than allowing him to appear by summons. “It is reasonable to deduce that this was a vindictive action meant to publicly embarrass and humiliate Paxton,” the defense motion states.

[…]

Among the other motions filed late Monday:

– One accused the special prosecutors of improperly providing details to the media about the evidence going before the grand jury. The special prosecutors are also accused of improperly leaking details from the July indictments to media before the indictments were unsealed. The defense motion calls the media interviews and leaks “a clear attempt to taint the potential criminal jury pool.”

– One alleges the indictment for failure to register as a securities agent must be quashed because the three-year statute of limitations on prosecution had passed. The indictment came July 7. Any solicitation by Paxton occurred on or before June 26, 2012, according to the defense team’s motion.

– Two motions sought to quash the indictments because they failed to give adequate notice of specific charges against Paxton and failed to state the specific offense. For example, according to the motion, the indictment failed to say whether Paxton had solicited potential clients or advised existing clients. In another example, the securities fraud indictments allege Paxton was compensated with 100,000 shares of Servergy stock in each of the two instances. But Paxton had only 100,000 shares total, creating an inconsistency that should prompt the indictments to be quashed, the defense argued.

– One moved to quash the indictments because the cases were not referred by the Texas State Securities Board, which has primary jurisdiction over security offenses. The motion also argued that Paxton was already sanctioned by the securities board for failing to register as a securities agent. Seeking criminal charges for the same action would constitute double jeopardy, the motion alleged.

This story provides more details of the defense’s claims, as well as some analysis of their chances for success.

“There is a perception that there are people that are in the pro-Paxton camp,” said Plano attorney Todd Shapiro, who is the son of former Republican state Sen. Florence Shapiro, who was succeeded in her Senate seat by Paxton. “There are others that are in the anti-Paxton camp.”

Paxton’s attorneys accuse Oldner of tainting the grand jury process by violating the secrecy of the panel by talking to his wife about the indictments. Rumors about the judge’s wife and potential judicial misconduct have been circulating for months. Paxton’s supporters have accused the judge of being out to get the attorney general.

[…]

In the affidavit, [Collin County Commissioner Susan] Fletcher describes herself as a longtime friend of Paxton. She also says Cissy Oldner helped with her successful campaign for election to county commissioner. The motion also includes text messages between Oldner’s wife and Fletcher in the weeks before the July indictments.

“Your friend Paxton has not had a good week,” Cissy Oldner said in a text. And later that same night: “This is exactly what we told you was going to happen to Paxton. It’s worse than we ever thought. Over 100k. Ouch.”

Cissy Oldner described herself in a text as “gloating,” presumably over Paxton’s legal troubles. At the time, a grand jury overseen by her husband was beginning to hear evidence against Paxton.

“I understood Cissy’s comments to mean Paxton’s case was not going well for him,” Fletcher wrote.

In her affidavit, Fletcher describes the events that took place on July 28 — the same day that a grand jury handed down twin securities fraud indictments against Paxton. She said Cissy Oldner told her about the indictments around 4:48 p.m.

“I replied to her that I was sorry to hear about Mr. Paxton’s indictment, but did not want to be involved in the matter,” Fletcher wrote. “Cissy reminded me that she had warned me this was going to happen.”

Fletcher said she asked if Judge Oldner was going to recuse himself from the case. Cissy Oldner replied that he would not, she says in the affidavit.

“Cissy also said this was a controversial case, and people will be wondering if the prosecution was politically-motivated,” the affidavit quotes Fletcher as saying. “Cissy encouraged me to remind everyone that this is the process, and the legal process needs to play out. Cissy continued that this was very embarrassing for our county and for Texas. I told her again that I would prefer to step back and not discuss the matter or comment further.”

A little over an hour later, Fletcher said she got another call from Oldner’s wife, telling her not to tell anyone about the indictments because they were sealed. But it was too late; Fletcher had already told other county officials about Cissy Oldner’s call.

[…]

“If he disclosed even the fact of the indictment to his wife, that’s not proper,” said retired state district Judge Michael Snipes. “Even though it’s his wife, that’s not allowed.”

He also said if Oldner did enter the grand jury room while it was in session — as Paxton’s attorneys have alleged in the motion — then that also was improper.

But if even if it happened, Snipes says, “they can’t show prejudice, and you’ve got to show prejudice to quash the indictment.”

He said he does not believe the Tarrant County judge presiding over the case will toss the indictments based on that motion.

Snipes also said did not see selection of the grand jurors as improper.

There’s more in both stories, so go read the whole thing. Paxton is certainly getting his money’s worth out of his defense team, whether he has to pay for them or not. I’d be interested to hear what the lawyers out there think of the defense team’s filings – do you agree with Judge Snipes and Todd Shapiro, who saw it the same way? What it says to me is that we are in for the long haul. Remember how long it took for the Tom DeLay case to get to trial? (Actually, off the top of my head, I don’t remember how long it took, but thankfully Wikipedia reminds me that it was five years from indictment/arrest to the first day of trial.) Basically, the trial judge will eventually rule on the motions (after the prosecution responds and both sides make oral arguments), then it goes to the district appeals court, then finally the Court of Criminal Appeals. So yeah, we’re probably measuring things in years at this point, meaning my suggestion that an already-convicted Paxton could be on the ballot in 2018 is way too optimistic. We may not even know if he has to go to trial by then. WFAA, the Statesman, and the Lone Star Project have more.

Texas blog roundup for the week of November 2

The Texas Progressive Alliance hopes everyone took advantage of their opportunity to vote as it brings you this week’s roundup.

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