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August 18th, 2020:

Green Party candidate for Supreme Court withdraws

It’s not an election without a bit of ballot drama.

Judge Amy Clark Meachum

Charles Waterbury, the Green Party candidate for Texas Supreme Court chief justice, has dropped out of the race after an opponent questioned his eligibility to run.

Waterbury’s withdrawal notice was submitted to the Texas secretary of state’s office Monday and notarized Friday, the same day his Democratic opponent, Amy Clark Meachum, sought a court order declaring his candidacy invalid.

Meachum’s emergency petition to the Supreme Court, the same body she hopes to join, argued that Waterbury is prohibited from appearing on the ballot as the Green Party nominee because he voted in the March 3 Democratic primary.

State law prohibits candidates for state or county office from representing one political party in the general election if they voted in another party’s primary in the same election cycle.

Laura Palmer, co-chair of the Green Party, criticized the petition, saying party officials were given only one day to respond to allegations that Waterbury was ineligible to run and that Waterbury decided to withdraw on Friday.

“The filing is moot, baseless and harassing,” Palmer said.

But Meachum’s lawyer, Brandi Voss, said Monday that the Supreme Court petition was filed because of tight election deadlines after Green Party officials did not respond by a 2 p.m. Friday deadline. A candidate’s name can be omitted from the ballot up to the 74th day before an election, which is this Friday for the Nov. 3 general election, according to Meachum’s petition.

I’m not sure what the timing of all this is. The Greens (and the Libertarians) nominate by convention, and Waterbury was not listed as a candidate as of April 18, when the party confirmed seven other nominees. He was listed on their July newsletter, so somewhere in there he must have been confirmed. Once he was known to be a candidate, someone had to notice that he had cast a Democratic primary vote, and then whatever correspondence leading up to the SCOTX emergency petition had to happen. It’s plausible this could have all taken place on a compressed timeline.

This is also one of those situations where I don’t have a whole lot of sympathy for the candidate who’s been booted off the ballot. Waterbury has run for statewide office before – he was a Green nominee for SCOTX in 2016 and 2014 and probably before that as well but I stopped looking – and so presumably had a passing familiarity with the rules. As with candidates who screw up their ballot applications, it’s not an onerous burden to get it right. All he had to do was not vote in another party’s primary, the same standard to which I as a precinct chair am held. He had one job, and he blew it.

The Libertarian Party has a full slate of candidates, including one for Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, if that sort of thing interests you. Losing Waterbury is a blow to the Greens as a whole, because they need to break two percent in a statewide race in order to ensure future ballot access, and with Waterbury out they only have two others running statewide, David Collins for Senate and Katija Gruene for Railroad Commissioner. With all due respect to Collins, that isn’t happening for them in the Senate race – I mean, the Green candidate for Senate in 2014 got all of 1.18%, and that was with a lousy Dem candidate and with the Green being a Latina (as I have noted before, Latinx third party candidates tend to do better than non-Latinx third party candidates). It is doable in the RRC race, as Martina Salinas cleared 2% in 2014 and 3% in 2016, though in that latter race the major party candidates were the unqualified hack Wayne Christian and perennial candidate Grady Yarbrough. It might be tougher this year, and with turnout expected to be a lot higher, the bar is raised further. It’s not that Waterbury was likely to meet this threshhold – he got 1.23% in 2016, and 0.75% in 2014 – but at least he represented another opportunity. So much for that.

Where are we again with the IPOB?

Are we moving forward, or are we standing still?

A longtime member of Houston’s Independent Police Oversight Board has resigned, saying the organization’s structure prevents it from providing meaningful oversight of the Houston Police Department and should be disbanded.

In a pointed letter to Mayor Sylvester Turner dated Aug. 13, board member Kristin Anderson wrote that the civilian police watchdog “does not serve its stated purposes and it provides cover by making it appear that independent oversight is taking place.”

“In this time of radical rethinking of the purpose and function of law enforcement, someone with the courage and moral imagination beyond tinkering with the edges of reform should rethink citizen oversight in Houston,” she wrote. “If we do not act now, what a profound opportunity we will have missed.”

The resignation marks the latest criticism of the volunteer board and comes amid widespread scrutiny of law enforcement departments following the death of longtime Houston resident George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer in May.

[…]

In an emailed statement, Turner said that when he appointed his policing taskforce earlier this summer, he ordered its members to review potential changes regarding the IPOB.

“Their work is ongoing, and I look forward to receiving the final report,” he wrote. “In fact, I already have sent Kristin Anderson’s letter to the chair. Ms. Anderson has served on the Independent Police Oversight Board since 2011. I appreciate her work and contributions to the City of Houston and wish her well.”

[…]

Anderson called on Turner to include members with a broader range of perspectives on the board.

“Formerly incarcerated citizens and others who have had both positive and negative experiences with law enforcement would represent the Houston community in a way that IPOB does not,” she said.

She also noted that she had never seen the IPOB fulfill one of its other charges: “to review and make recommendations on recruitment, training and evaluation of police officers; and to consider community concerns regarding the department.”

The letter is embedded in the story if you want to read the whole thing. We’ve had this discussion before, and it’s cleat there are many reforms that can be accomplished, some by Congress, some by the Legislature, some by Mayor Turner and City Council, and some by the collective bargaining process, which kicks in again this December. The Houston Justice Coalition has made three simple demands: enforcing body camera usage, more transparency with the IPOB, and giving the IPOB subpoena power. It should be noted that the Austin Police Department’s IPOB has better transparency than Houston’s and can initiate its own investigations, but the APD is kind of a mess, so these things have their limits. But all of them together would represent significant progress. We have to wait on the Lege till January, and Congress isn’t going to be able to do anything without a different Senate and a different President, but the city stuff can get moving any time.

Which reminds me, that Mayoral Task Force was formed in early June, and their report was to be delivered in three months. That means we’re a couple of weeks out from the deadline, at which time there better be a mandate to act. I just wanted to note this so we’re all ready for when it happens.

HISD also spending more money on mobile technology

Also good.

Houston ISD officials anticipate receiving a chunk of the $32 million that Harris County leaders allocated this week for helping school districts buy sought-after computers and wireless Internet hotspots.

HISD Chief Financial Officer Glenn Reed said early conversations with county officials suggest the district could get about $4 million for technology — an amount that the Texas Education Agency could match to lessen the district’s financial burden.

Trustees voted Thursday to approve spending an additional $31 million on computers and hotspots this fiscal year, which would help outfit students needing technology while learning from home. HISD plans to remain online-only from early September through at least mid-October, and all families have the option to continue virtual classes throughout the year.

“No one has said ($4 million) is the number that’s been agreed to, but right now, we think that’s potentially where it is,” Reed said.

[…]

HISD officials have stopped short of guaranteeing all students will have access to computers and hotspots by their Sept. 8 start date. Surveys taken in July showed about 22,750 students lacked a computer, while district officials did not receive responses for about 37,200 students. HISD expects to receive about 25,000 devices in August and another 40,000 in September or October.

Reed said the combination of county and federal funds has “allowed us to actually increase the number of devices we can purchase,” though the final tally remains in flux.

See here for the background. Given that the start of school has been pushed back to September 8, I hope that the vast majority of students who need this equipment can get it in time. It really is a shame we didn’t address this sooner, but here we are. Let’s make sure every kid has what they need to succeed.

How Nuro is doing in the pandemic

An interesting update on the little driverless grocery (and other things) delivery serives.

As recently as last fall, Nuro appeared to be years away from widespread adoption. The company, which operated in Arizona and California, arrived in Houston in 2018 to test its vehicles on a city known for its diversity, with a wide range of neighborhoods and types of customers. Though the cars were overseen by two human employees in the front seat, the goal was to develop the world’s preeminent fully autonomous delivery service. The robotically piloted Toyota Priuses, equipped with remote sensing equipment on top, became a fairly common sight in central Houston neighborhoods. But before the pandemic, most people didn’t pay them much attention.

Last fall, only 3 percent of the nation’s households were placing frequent online orders for grocery delivery. The low rate was attributed to shoppers’ concerns about higher prices online and delivery drivers showing up late. In May of this year, however, that number had skyrocketed to 33 percent, a stunning increase that—in even the best case scenarios—was expected to take many years to reach, not months. In Houston alone, Nuro has seen its deliveries triple into the thousands since the pandemic turned in-person shopping into risky activity. Suddenly, Nuro was no longer a novelty, but an important aid for many Houstonians sheltering in place.

[…]

In addition to partnering with Kroger, the nation’s largest operator of traditional supermarkets, Nuro delivers Domino’s pizza and prescriptions from CVS. The company expects much of its new customer base to remain after the pandemic, believing that quarantine has only amplified an existing trend toward on-demand grocery delivery. Sola Lawal, a Nuro product operations manager based in Houston who formerly worked for Uber, cites high customer appreciation scores as evidence that new users will remain loyal to the brand.

When I spoke to Lawal, I asked him what he would have thought if someone had shown him those heightened delivery numbers last fall.

“I’m not sure what I would’ve thought,” he said. “I just know I would’ve been very confused.”

The pandemic hasn’t just rapidly expanded the company’s customer base and delivery volume, it’s also forced them to adapt. The company still relies on Nuro employees to oversee the autonomous vehicles, collect valuable information about how they perform on the road, and unload groceries gathered by workers at Kroger. Last fall, when driverless vehicles arrived at a home with groceries in tow, a human operator sitting in the passenger seat would hand the goods over to customers or deliver them to the front door. In Houston, some families had a habit of meeting the vehicles at the curb with a red wagon. “It was like a mini family celebration,” Lawal explained.

With person-to-person interaction no longer safe, Nuro’s engineers rushed to develop a new system that would allow customers to open a delivery vehicle’s doors by flashing a thumbs-up sign or using a setting on their mobile phone. (Both the hand gesture and smartphone features are available only on vehicles in California for now.)

“Creating contact-less delivery was a long-term goal that got sped up when it became clear that, yeah, we need to be able to do this now!” Lawal said.

That was specifically one of the things I wondered about when Nuro expanded its service a couple of months ago. I still think there will be demand for having a human person bring the groceries to your door, but perhaps the demand for contactless delivery will be greater than I might have thought. We still mostly go to the store ourselves – early mornings are fairly uncrowded, and it’s the only way to be sure you’re getting exactly what you want, including when what you originally wanted isn’t available – but the allure of delivery is easy to see. Have any of you tried this service?