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November 29th, 2021:

A brief filing update

Just a few observations as we head out of the holiday season and into what I expect will be the busier part of the filing period. I’m using the Patrick Svitek spreadsheet, the SOS candidate filing resource, and the candidate filing info at the harrisvotes.com site for my notes.

– There’s now a fourth candidate listed for Attorney General on the Dem side, someone named Mike Fields, who along with Joe Jaworski has officially filed as of today. I can’t find anything to clarify this person’s identity – there’s no address listed on the SOS page, and Google mostly returned info about the former County Court judge who is now serving as a retired judge and who last ran for office as a Republican. I seriously doubt this is the Mike Fields who is running for AG as a Dem. I know nothing more than that.

– No Dems yet for Comptroller or Ag Commissioner, though I saw a brief mention somewhere (which I now can’t find) of a prospective Dem for the former. I feel reasonably confident there will be candidates for these offices, though how viable they are remains to be seen.

– Nothing terribly interesting on the Congressional front yet. A couple of Dems have filed for the open and tough-to-hold CD15; I don’t know anything about them. State Rep. Jasmine Crockett, in her first term in the Lege, will run for CD30, the seat being vacated by the retiring Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, who has endorsed Crockett for the primary. That race will surely draw a crowd, but having EBJ in her corner will surely help. No incumbents have yet drawn any primary challenges, though Reps. Vicente Gonzalez (now running in CD34) and Lloyd Doggett (now running in CD37) will have company for their new spots. I am not aware of any Dem yet for the new CD38, which should be Republican at least in the short term but which stands as the biggest prize available for Harris County Democrats.

Michelle Palmer has re-upped for SBOE6, which will be a tougher race this time around. I’m working on a post about the electoral trends for the new SBOE map.

– Sara Stapleton-Barrera and Morgan LaMantia have filed for the open SD27 Senate seat; Rep. Alex Dominguez has not yet filed. Nothing else of interest there.

– For the State House, I’m going to focus on area districts:

HD26 – Former SBOE member Lawrence Allen Jr, who ran in the 2020 primary for this seat, has filed.

HD28 – Eliz Markowitz still has an active campaign website and Facebook page, but I don’t see anything on either to indicate that she’s running again. One person who is running though he hasn’t filed yet is Nelvin Adriatico, who ran for Houston City Council District J in 2019.

HD76 – The spreadsheet lists four candidates so far. Two ran in 2020, Sarah DeMerchant (the 2020 nominee) and Suleman Lalani (who lost to DeMerchant in the primary runoff). Two are new, Vanesia Johnson and James Burnett. This new-to-Fort-Bend district went 61-38 for Joe Biden in 2020, so the primary winner will be heavily favored in November.

HD132 – Chase West has filed. He’s not from the traditional candidate mold, which should make for an interesting campaign. This district was made more Republican and is not the top local pickup opportunity, but it’s on the radar.

HD138 – Stephanie Morales has filed. This is the top local pickup opportunity – the Presidential numbers are closer in HD133, which does not yet have a candidate that I’m aware of, but it’s more Republican downballot.

HD142 – Jerry Davis is listed on the Svitek spreadsheet as a challenger to Rep. Harold Dutton. He hasn’t filed yet, and I don’t see any campaign presence on the web yet. That’s all I know.

HD147 – I am aware of a couple of candidates so far to fill the seat left vacant by Rep. Garnet Coleman’s retirement. Nam Subramaniam has filed. HCC Trustee Reagan Flowers sent out a press release over the weekend stating her intention to run. I would expect there to be more contenders for this open seat.

– For Harris County offices, there are already some people campaigning as challengers to incumbents. Carla Wyatt is running for Treasurer, Desiree Broadnax is running for District Clerk. On the Republican side, former District Clerk Chris Daniel has filed for his old office, and someone named Kyle Scott has filed for Treasurer. There are no Democratic challengers that I can see yet for County Clerk or County Judge, though there are a couple of Republicans for County Judge, Vidal Martinez and Alexandra Mealer. Finally, there’s a fourth name out there for County Commissioner in Precinct 4, Jeff Stauber, who last ran for Commissioner in Precinct 2 in 2018 and for Sheriff in 2016, falling short in the primary both times.

So that’s what I know at this time. Feel free to add what you know in the comments. I’ll post more updates as I get them.

Harris County at “moderate” threat level again

For now. As with all things, for now.

The COVID-19 threat level in Harris County was reduced Friday to moderate from significant as the local number of hospitalized patients and new cases met thresholds that guide the meter while a new variant raised concerns that prompted countries across the world to once again restrict travel.

County Judge Lina Hidalgo’s office announced the change in the threat level after new data indicators turned yellow, the color designated to the level that calls for unvaccinated residents to remain vigilant, wear masks and continue practicing physical distancing, although can resume leaving home. Under the level, fully vaccinated individuals can resume activities without masking except where required.

The 14-day average positivity rate in the county reached 4.6 percent. As of Friday, 66.5 percent of the county’s population had received at least one dose of a vaccine and 57.2 percent were fully vaccinated.

The risks of the new variant, named Omicron by a World Health Organization panel, were not yet fully understood, according to the Associated Press.

The same panel that named the variant also classified it as a highly transmissible virus of concern. Numerous countries, including the United States, Canada and Russia, announced travel restrictions for visitors from southern Africa, where the variant was discovered, according to the AP.

In a tweet Friday evening, Hidalgo said she lowered the level “due to improved indicators” but cautioned “winter COVID spike is still possible.”

“Judge Hidalgo remains concerned about Omicron and the potential for a winter surge as we’re seeing in some other areas in the US,” spokesperson Rafael Lemaitre said Friday. “She is strongly encouraging residents who haven’t been vaccinated to do so — vaccines and boosters are widely available for free.”

I see from my archives that the threat level had been reduced to “Moderate” in late May, back when we all thought it was going to be a hot vaxx summer. Hopefully this time that will last a bit longer, but as before that will depend on getting enough people vaccinated. We’re making progress, and I remain hopeful that the vax’s availability for 5-11 year olds will help, but we still have a long way to go.

As for that new variant:

As global governments, scientists and health experts track the new omicron variant of COVID-19, Dr. Peter Hotez is encouraging people not to “push the panic button,” before we know more about it.

Hotez, who serves as co-director of the Center for Vaccine Development at Texas Children’s Hospital, said transmissibility is king in determining if omicron will impact the globe the way previous variants alpha and delta did. More data is necessary, he said.

“Before we press the panic button I think there’s a few things to consider,” Hotez said during an appearance on MSNBC. “Yes, it does have some immune escape properties, or at least it looks like it might, but that’s that’s not what’s associated with high transmissibility. We’ve had other immune-escape variants before that have not really taken off… That’s what I’m looking out for, the level of transmissibility.”

The good news, as I understand it from scanning Twitter, is that it was detected early on, and that PCR tests work to find it, which means that testing for it will be quicker and more effective. The vax makers say they can make a new batch for this in short order, it will mostly be a matter of getting it approved. So yeah, don’t panic yet, wait to see what the data says, and if necessary get yourself another booster. We’re much better placed for this now, if we’re not stupid about it.

Yeah, traffic is worse than before

You’re not surprised, are you?

By most measures, traffic is back to pre-COVID congestion levels — or even more clogged in some cases. What seems to have changed, based on a handful of studies that looked at different facets of how drivers moved around American cities and locally, is who is logging all those miles.

“There are still a lot of people who are not driving like they used to, but those that are driving are driving more miles,” said Jeff Schlitt, director of sales engineering for Arity, which tracks driver behavior.

As they log more miles, however, drivers are not letting up on the gas pedal, not keeping their eyes on the road and often not driving safely.

“Our trend is definitely going in the wrong direction,” Texas Transportation Commissioner Laura Ryan said during a Sept. 30 update on road safety at the commission’s monthly meeting.

Arity, a spinoff business of insurance giant Allstate, follows drivers via smartphone apps that meticulously track location, allowing the company to measure numerous patterns, including trip routes, speed of travel, mobile phone use and sudden stops. Through data from third-party apps — the company says it receives data from 60 percent of U.S. drivers — the company then studies changes in trends.

In its latest report, released last month, Arity said overall U.S. vehicle travel is 8 percent higher than 2019 levels before the pandemic. Travel varies by state, however, with Texas up 10 percent and Massachusetts up 1 percent.

In Houston, COVID dropped freeway traffic volumes by about 45 percent in the earliest weeks of the pandemic, before congestion crept back up and remained about 10 percent below 2019 averages for most of last year, according to data compiled by Houston TranStar.

When fears of a winter surge in COVID cases sent many back into isolation last December, traffic volumes dipped again, then eased. By March, when the first wave of Texans were fully vaccinated, traffic volumes had risen above pre-pandemic levels.

Traffic dropped off in the summer, as is common when schools are out of session, something Schlitt and others said was a sign of normalcy.

“I think what we are seeing is a return to seasonality patterns,” Schlitt said.

Drivers said they are also seeing people moving back into their old habits of going to stores rather than relying on deliveries or choosing to eat in restaurants rather than cook at home.

[…]

With roughly three months left in the year, 3,278 people have died on Texas roadways, according to the state’s crash reporting system. Typically some reports can take weeks to appear in the system, and Ryan recently said the daily average of deaths has increased to 13 per day for September.

Unless the roadway carnage rapidly slows, Texas is on pace for more than 4,000 deaths. That would be the highest since 1982, when the per-mile fatality rate was three times higher, cars lacked airbags, drivers and passengers were far less likely to wear seat belts and aggressive enforcement of drunken driving was rare.

During the early months of the pandemic, highway and traffic safety officials said fewer drivers on the road left more room for unsafe motorists, who used less-congested lanes to accelerate. That meant that even though Texas had fewer collisions, they were happening at faster speeds, leading to tragic results.

Now, safety observers said with drivers accustomed to those 75 mph and 80 mph speeds, freeways are more crowded and collisions are increasing. For the first nine months of 2020, Texas police logged 393,919 crashes. From Jan. 1 to Sept. 30 of this year, at least 459,972 crashes have occurred, a roughly 15 percent jump.

I have done so much less driving over the past 18 months, thanks to working from home. It’s contributed to a significant reduction in stress for me, and I’m not a nervous driver. I’m just much happier not having to drive on our miserable freeways day in and day out. Some number of commuters are taking advantage of more flexible or hybrid work schedules these days to be on the road more in the middle of the day, which is better for them but maybe not as good for the people who are normally on the road at those times. All I know is, the longer I can go as a mostly non-driver, the better.

Early voting starts today for the 2021 runoffs

You know the drill – It’s runoff time for the 2021 elections, and early voting starts today. There are nine early voting locations, which you will find in the various districts that have runoffs – HISD districts I, V, VI, and VII, and HCC district 3, as well as City Council races in Bellaire and Missouri City(*). Early voting runs from today through next Tuesday, December 7. Early voting hours will be from 7 AM to 7 PM each day, except for Sunday the 5th, when it will be 12 PM to 7 PM. You can vote in the runoff whether or not you voted in November, though of course you can only vote if you’re in one of those places.

The HISD runoffs are particularly important because there are some characters in those races that we really don’t want or need to have in positions of power. The race in District I, which is my district, is one where reasonable people may reasonably disagree on the better choice. The races in districts V, VI, and VII involve perfectly fine endorsed-by-the-Chronicle incumbents against people who are going to crusade against masks and “critical race theory” and a whole lot of other nonsense. District VI in particular features a perennial candidate who frankly got too damn many votes in November despite a documented history of sexual harassment, and as I have come to find out, credible allegations of domestic abuse following his divorce a couple of years ago. Vote for Sue Deigaard in V, for Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca in VI, and for Anne Sung in VII.

The race in HCC is also one where you can go either way; the Chron restated their endorsement of challenger Jharrett Bryantt over the weekend. Get out and vote, you have plenty of time to do so.

(*) Several non-HISD districts don’t have runoffs, as a plurality is enough.