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August 10th, 2020:

July 2020 campaign finance reports: State races, part 4

So yeah, after my previous entry I went and talked myself into checking on the finance reports from the 10 non-Houston-area seats that Dems flipped in 2018, plus four others of interest. It’s a sickness, I admit it, but here we are. Part One of my look at the July reports for state races (statewide, State Senate, and SBOE) is here, Part 2 (the Houston-area State Rep districts) is here, and Part 3 (the other seats Dems are challenging) is here.

Ryan Guillen, HD31
Marian Knowlton, HD31

Abel Herrero, HD34
James Hernandez, HD34

Erin Zwiener, HD45
Carrie Isaac, HD45

Vikki Goodwin, HD47
Jennifer Fleck, HD47
Jennifer Fleck SPAC, HD47

James Talarico, HD52
Lucio Valdez, HD52

Michelle Beckley, HD65
Kronda Thimesch, HD65

Eddie Morales, HD74
Ruben Falcon, HD74

Ana-Maria Ramos, HD102
Linda Koop, HD102

Terry Meza, HD105
Gerson Hernandez, HD105

Victoria Neave, HD107
Samuel Smith, HD107

Rhetta Bowers, HD113
Will Douglas, HD113

John Turner, HD114
Luisa Del Rosal, HD114

Julie Johnson, HD115
Karyn Brownlee, HD115

John Bucy, HD136
Mike Guevara, HD136


Dist   Candidate       Raised     Spent       Loan     On Hand
==============================================================
HD31   Guillen         41,395    22,139          0     439,602
HD31   Knowlton        11,329     7,239          0      10,678

HD34   Herrero         41,245    32,142          0     252,892
HD34   Hernandez       42,546    10,857          0      29,863

HD45   Zwiener        131,664   101,551          0     101,387
HD45   Isaac           98,202    83,016          0      24,129

HD47   Goodwin        137,230    63,990     19,000     170,429
HD47   Fleck           19,064    32,948     19,188       4,342

HD52   Talarico       148,975    70,941          0     130,711
HD52   Valdez          13,671     6,398          0       6,901

HD65   Beckley         64,004    44,016          0      48,569
HD65   Thimesch        88,416    63,987     10,000      63,885

HD74   Morales         15,950    13,593    215,000      13,000
HD74   Falcon           1,600     2,419      5,000           0

HD102  Ramos           72,737    36,654        310      51,422
HD102  Koop            88,745    77,489          0      48,630

HD105  Meza            42,266    11,670          0      78,310
HD105  Hernandez        9,794     9,549      8,500       9,789

HD107  Neave           64,849    22,869          0      61,931
HD107  Smith            9,107     4,693      2,400       7,044

HD113  Bowers          96,329    59,424          0      68,221
HD113  Douglas        240,579    71,091          0     266,347

HD114  Turner         157,316   145,704      7,000     425,567
HD114  Del Rosal      120,708   151,281     10,000     255,201

HD115  Johnson        108,452    72,228          0     236,842
HD115  Brownlee        13,970     6,597     11,000      28,698

HD136  Bucy            79,511    45,209     46,375     103,770
HD136  Guevara         13,500    11,275          0       2,588

HD74 is an open seat. HDs 31 and 34 are the two purplest seats held by Dems from a year before 2018, with HD74 being the third-purplest. All three are on the Texas Elects watch list. HD107 was flipped by Rep. Neave in 2016, and she withstood a drunk driving arrest to win re-election easily in 2018. All of the other seats were flipped by Dems in 2018.

Reps. Erin Zwiener and Michelle Beckley had primary opponents, while everyone else had a free pass in March. Zwiener had a more expensive primary than Beckley, but she raised more and has more on hand, so no worries there. John Turner is the only other Dem to have spent a significant amount in the first six months of the year, and it was fairly normal stuff – staff, contract, and consulting salaries and fees, and monthly rental for an office were the bulk of it. An $18K charge for polling was the single biggest (and most interesting) expense.

Turner, son of former Congressman Jim Turner, is one of two Dem incumbents whose opponent raised at least $100K in this period. Turner’s opponent Luisa Del Rosal, who actually spent more than she raised over the past six months, has an impressive $255K on hand, in part because she’s been running and raising money since early 2019 – she has a July 2019 finance report, so she’s been fundraising for well over a year now, as long as Turner has been an incumbent. He maintains a significant cash advantage, but she’s got the resources to put up a fight.

Also impressive on the Republican side is Will Douglas in HD113, who raised double what Del Rosas did in the first six months of 2020, and now has a big cash advantage on first term Rep. Rhetta Bowers. Bowers’ $96K raised wasn’t bad, but she started out with a lot less on hand and is almost $200K behind Douglas. Rep. Michelle Beckley, who was outraised by challenger Kronda Thimesch and has less cash on hand, is the only other Dem incumbent in that position. Ana Ramos was slightly outraised by Linda Koop, the former incumbent in HD102, but she holds a modest cash on hand lead, thanks in part to Koop having to spend more (Koop had a primary opponent).

I should note that both Bowers, who won in 2018 by seven points, and Turner, who won by 11, are in districts that performed pretty strongly for Dems in 2018. Beckley had a closer win, but her district has been trending rapidly Democratic. They have challenges, but none of them are in a weak position to begin with.

Beyond that, Dem incumbents look to be in pretty solid shape. We should also acknowledge that there will be plenty of money spent by third party groups, and that everyone here is likely to raise a bunch more money in the interim. As I’ve said elsewhere, the 30 day reports will tell a better story. I’m mildly concerned about HDs 65 and 113, and I’m not going to rest easy until after November, but I see no red flags. That’s not a bad place to be.

Paxton (again) wants another judge on his case

Round and round they go.

Best mugshot ever

Defense attorneys for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton — whose indictment for felony securities fraud is now more than five years old — are again asking for a different judge to oversee the case. It’s the latest turn in a long-delayed prosecution that has bounced all the way from a trial court in North Texas to the state Supreme Court in Austin, and now sits in legal purgatory in Houston.

Paxton’s attorneys wrote Thursday that Judge Jason Luong should recuse himself from the case because the attorney general’s office is representing him — among a group of about 20 Harris County district court judges — in an unrelated lawsuit over bail practices. Robert Johnson, who oversaw the case until recently, voluntarily recused himself from the case for that reason earlier this summer. A Houston appeals court reassigned the case to Luong late last month.

“Judge Luong’s impartiality might be reasonably questioned” because Paxton is defending him, Paxton’s attorneys argued in a filing this week.

[…]

The prosecutors appointed to take Paxton to trial shot back Friday, arguing that Luong should remain on the case.

“Because Paxton’s palpable fear that Judge Luong will follow the law and keep these felony cases in Harris County does not come within a time zone of meeting the Draconian burden required for recusal, his motion is without merit and should be denied,” prosecutors Brian Wice and Kent Schaffer wrote.

And they noted that last month, Paxton’s attorney Philip Hilder told the Houston Chronicle that Johnson “did not need to recuse himself on the matter since … the allegations against Mr. Paxton do not involve his official capacity but rather his individual capacity.”

See here for the previous update. I don’t think the Paxton argument about a potential conflict of interest due to the bail lawsuit is completely without merit, but I do agree that it’s a thin reed. I mean, the AG’s office is basically defending the office of Criminal District Court Judge in this lawsuit, and Jason Luong just happens to be in that category. It’s Jason Luong in his official capacity, not Jason Luong, person of Texas. It’s true that Judge Robert Johnson agreed to recuse himself on those grounds, but that doesn’t mean other judges would agree with that position. It’s also true that the question could be made moot, either by Judge Luong making like Chuck Silverman and Brian Warren and filing a motion in agreement with the plaintiffs, or by the presiding judge in the bail case granting the motion to dismiss that was recently filed. Of course, a ruling on that motion could take months, and we needn’t wait that long. The point is, though, that there are other ways to resolve this conflict, if one agrees that there is a conflict.

And I too would point out that Team Paxton was just the other day talking about how their guy is ready for his day in court and that the prosecutors should quit fighting the effort to move the case back to Collin County so we can get this show on the road already. Funny how one’s perspective can change on that. It’s been pretty much entirely the work of Team Paxton and his political supporters that have caused this case to drag on for now more than five years. The DMN, in its reporting on this latest action, provides a handy timeline.

The prosecutors, Paxton’s lawyers added, are improperly trying for a do-over on this change-of-venue decision.

“It simply defies belief that the State can get two bites at the apple on the critical jurisdictional issue that Judge Johnson already properly ruled on by allowing a new judge who is similarly situated with Judge Johnson (i.e., both represented by the Texas Attorney General in the same case) to review Judge Johnson’s prior ruling. This is the ultimate appearance of impropriety.”

In their response, the prosecutors said Paxton’s own lawyers already undercut their argument when they told the Houston Chronicle last month that Johnson never needed to step off the case.

“He did not need to recuse himself on the matter since it had been ordered back to Collin County and the allegations against Mr. Paxton do not involve his official capacity but rather his individual capacity that predates his election to that office,” Paxton attorney Philip Hilder told the Chronicle.

A Collin County jury indicted Paxton in July 2015. Since then, his case has been repeatedly delayed by fights over where the trials should take place, how much the prosecutors should make and what judge should preside. Paxton’s defense team spent more than a year attempting to have the charges against their client thrown out. They failed.

Hurricane Harvey also delayed the case and many others in Houston. The COVID-19 pandemic could further push any possible trial back.

Paxton is charged with two first-degree felonies over allegations that he persuaded friends to invest in a McKinney technology company called Servergy Inc. without telling them he received 100,000 shares of stock. He also is charged with a third-degree felony, accused of funneling clients to a friend’s investment firm without being registered with the state. The Texas State Securities Board reprimanded and fined Paxton $1,000 for this failure to register in 2014.

If found guilty, Paxton could face two to 10 years in prison for the third-degree felony and five to 99 years for each of the first-degree felonies, as well as fines. He has pleaded not guilty to all of the charges.

When I started writing this post, I began with the post title, and I was pretty sure that it was Paxton who had demanded a new judge in the past, but I wasn’t sure and I knew it would take a lot of archive-diving find an answer. I’m thankful the DMN did that work for me. Who wants to bet this case will still be active when the voters go to choose an AG in 2022?

In which Houston becomes more walkable

It’s a start.

On 19th Street, one of Houston’s most enduring strips of shops and restaurants, there is a vacant lot tucked between two stores, about a block from the landmark “Heights” sign.

When developers recently expressed interest in putting a new building there, however, they suffered a setback.

Houston’s planning codes, written in the 1990s with automobiles in mind, meant the developers would have to put the new building 25 feet back from the road, set awkwardly behind the street-side strip of storefronts.

The city planning commission granted them a reprieve from the rule, but the episode illustrated how Houston’s code served as an impediment, not a spark, for so-called “walkable” development, said Bill Baldwin, a real estate agent and member of the planning commission.

City council on Wednesday took a first step toward changing that, unanimously approving ordinances aimed at making pockets of Houston more friendly to pedestrians and moving the city away from its car-centric planning code. The new regulations only apply to new buildings and redevelopment in certain parts of the city.

In those areas, the ordinances will bring buildings — not parking lots — closer to the street, widen sidewalks, and reduce or altogether eliminate the number of parking spots developers are required to offer.

[…]

The ordinances create two distinct programs: areas with a ““Walkable Places” designation, where the city seeks to foster pedestrian-friendly development; and areas in the “Transit-Oriented Development” program, where the city hopes to bring the same principles to most streets that fall within a half-mile of a bus or train station.

While the underlying regulations are similar, the Walkable Places” program initially takes shape in three pilot projects along Emancipation Avenue, Midtown, and Hogan and Lorraine Streets in the Near Northside. Other areas can pursue a “Walkable Places” designation if a majority of property owners support it. City council will have final say over all such designations.

The “Transit-Oriented Development” program will apply to city-designated areas across Houston that are close to transit stops.

For the streets covered by either program, the ordinances undo many of the automobile-centered rules adopted in the 1990s. For example, under those rules, all development on major streets must be set back 25 feet from the road, businesses must offer a prescribed number of parking spaces for customers, and sidewalks must be 5 feet wide.

The new rules waive the set-back requirement, bringing buildings closer to the street and pushing parking lots to the side or behind new buildings. The transit-oriented development ordinance cuts or eliminates parking space requirements.

A preview version of the story from Wednesday morning is here. You should follow the links in the excerpt to see more about the program. It will take awhile for the effects to be truly visible, but the potential is great, and there are a lot more places that need this kind of intervention – I for one would put Washington Avenue at the top of the list of corridors to be added to the existing list. Though this story begins with a development on 19th Street in the Heights, as of today none of the Heights is in scope. Which is fine, as most of the commercial parts of the neighborhood – think White Oak, 11th, and 19th/20th – are pretty good with sidewalks to begin with. I guess what I’m saying is, I want to see this spread to more of the city. It’s a little crazy to think that we had these anti-pedestrian rules in the first place, but that was Houston in the 90s for you. Would have been great to do this kind of unwinding a long time ago, but better late than never.