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October 10th, 2022:

Interviews with Janet Dudding and Jay Kleberg

We are at the point of the calendar where there are only a few interviews left for me to do, and everyone is super busy and has things come up at inconvenient times. The upshot is that I don’t have an interview in the queue to present today. Rest assured I’m still working on the ones I want to do. In the meantime, I wanted to repost some of the interviews I did in the primaries and runoffs, to catch you up if you haven’t had a chance to listen to them before. So today I present the interview I did in May with Comptroller candidate Janet Dudding, and the March interview I did with Land Commissioner candidate Jay Kleberg.

Janet Dudding is a CPA who relocated to College Station with her family following Hurricane Katrina. She worked for the city of College Station and for Texas A&M before retiring and getting more involved in politics. She is running against incumbent Glenn Hegar, who went from a low profile mostly stick-to-the-facts guy to self-appointed arch-nemesis of Harris County in the blink of an eye. If you’re looking for someone who just wants to do the job of Comptroller without having an aspirations of supervillainy, Janet Dudding is your candidate:

If Jay Kleberg’s name sounds familiar, it’s because his family owns the King Ranch and is the namesake of Kleberg County in South Texas. In addition to ranching, Kleberg is a conservationist and former Associate Director of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation, and recently traversed the entire 1,200 miles of the Texas-Mexico border for the feature film The River and the Wall. Do you want someone who will actually work for the betterment of Texas’ environment and public lands, while not screwing hurricane victims out of federal relief funds? Jay Kleberg is your candidate.

PREVIOUSLY:

All interviews and Q&As through the primary runoffs
Susan Hays – Ag Commissioner
Luke Warford – Railroad Commissioner
Michelle Palmer – SBOE6
Chuck Crews – HD128
Cam Campbell – HD132
Stephanie Morales – HD138
Robin Fulford – CD02
Laura Jones – CD08
Teneshia Hudspeth – Harris County Clerk
Amy Hinojosa – HCDE Trustee, Precinct 2
Andrea Duhon – HCDE Trustee, Precinct 4

As always, everything you could want to know about the Democratic candidates can be found at the Erik Manning spreadsheet.

Judicial Q&A: Judge Jason Cox

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for Democratic judicial candidates. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to my readers. This year it’s mostly incumbents running for re-election, so it’s an opportunity to hear that talk about what they have accomplished. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. For more information about these and other Democratic candidates, including links to interviews and Q&As from the primary and runoff, see the Erik Manning spreadsheet.)

Judge Jason Cox

1. Who are you and in which court do you preside?

I’m Judge Jason Cox, the Presiding Judge of Harris County Probate Court #3. Before being elected in 2018, I worked for approximately 15 years specifically in probate, where I was also a frequent writer and speaker on probate issues. I was also a longtime adjunct professor at the University of St. Thomas in the political science department where I taught pre-law classes and coached the mock trial team.

Personally, I am a third-generation Houstonian and graduate of Texas A&M University and the University of Houston Law Center. I am also a pediatric and adult cancer survivor and longtime volunteer at MD Anderson Cancer Center here in Houston.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

Probate Court #3 is a dual court: It hears general probate-related matters (cases involving Decedent’s estates, guardianships, trusts, and fiduciary relationships); and also has primary responsibility for all civil mental health proceedings in Harris County (cases involving civil mental health commitments, medication proceedings, and proceedings related to the restoration of competency for inmates at the Harris County Jail).

We have two courtrooms – one in the Harris County Civil Courthouse and one in the Harris County Psychiatric Center. We have a staff of 20 and are one of the largest courts in Texas by size and case load.

3. What have been your main accomplishments during your time on this bench?

Since taking the bench, I have created partnerships with other county departments and local entities to increase the availability of mental health services. This directly led to the creation of a new program – Assisted Outpatient Treatment (AOT), an outpatient treatment program for persons suffering from mental illness. This program, which is a partnership between our Court, UTHealth, The Harris Center, and the University of Houston, was awarded a $2.7 million, four-year federal grant and has grown into one of the largest and most successful programs of its kind in Texas. We now have other courts in Texas sending teams to our Court to learn how to implement this kind of program.

I have also worked with the Office of the Governor on the Committee on People with Disabilities to review and offer recommendations for improvement for laws related to guardianship; obtained a technology grant to allow parties to participate in proceedings remotely; revised the system for court appointments to ensure more equitable and diverse appointments; participated in the Houston Bar Association’s Equity and Inclusion Summer Clerkship program; provided free continuing legal education classes through the Court in the area of mental health; and have spoken at (and helped organize) numerous events for the legal community and the community at-large on the issues of probate and mental health. I have also worked with the other three Harris County statutory probate courts to have uniform rules and procedures across all four courts.

4. What do you hope to accomplish in your courtroom going forward?

If reelected to this office, I will continue the initiatives described above and work to improve and extend them. I am also working with several Harris County departments on projects related to the long-needed improvement of Harris County’s mental health court facilities and the upgrading of technology.

I am also working with the other three local statutory probate courts to require implicit bias training as a condition for receiving court appointments. I previously worked with the courts and the County to secure funding for implicit bias training for attorneys seeking such appointments so they would not have to pay or could participate in the training at a reduced cost.

5. Why is this race important?

If you find yourself in a probate court, you’re probably going through one of the most difficult times in your life. A loved one may have died or be suffering from addiction or mental illness; your family may be struggling with providing care for a member who may no longer be able to take care of themselves. Judges of these courts need to be competent and compassionate. They need to be able to make fair, equitable decisions while also following the law. It’s important to have a judge who understands this area of the law and has demonstrated the temperament necessary for a well-functioning court.

Given the size of this court and the high caseload this specific court has, it’s also important to have a judge who is hard working; respectful of the parties’ and attorneys’ time and the costs that can be incurred in these cases; a good manager of staff; and someone who can cooperate and coordinate with other Harris County departments and entities that serve a similar population.

6, Why should people vote for you in November?

I strive to treat everyone who appears in my Court fairly, with dignity, courtesy and respect. I am mindful of the time and expense that is incurred by individuals who have to take time away from their lives to appear in court. I am highly competent and knowledgeable in this area of the law and endeavor to stay current and innovative. I have worked to create relationships with other Harris County departments and entities so that our services can be coordinated and efficient. I have also worked with the Office of the Governor and with others, including legislators, to advocate for changes in the law when those changes can benefit Texans generally and Harris County residents specifically.

My success as a judge is reflected in the most recent results of the Houston Bar Association’s Judicial Evaluation Questionnaire, where I ranked among the top judges in the County, and in awards I’ve received for my service from the Houston Bar Association and the Houston LGBTQ+ Caucus. I strongly believe in public service and see myself as a temporary custodian of this bench; since being elected I have done my best – and will continue to do my best – to have a court whose focus is on improving people’s lives.

Trib profile of Rochelle Garza

Good story with a lot of details you probably don’t know about the Democratic candidate for Attorney General. It also includes this bit of annoying news:

Rochelle Garza

Polls show the contest is the tightest of all statewide races. Garza, 37, is within single digits of Paxton, who was endorsed by former President Donald J. Trump but long plagued by legal trouble that has turned him into the most vulnerable among Republican incumbents. Indicted seven years ago for securities fraud charges still pending, Paxton is under investigation by the FBI after several former aides claimed he abused his office by helping a wealthy donor. The whistleblowers sued Paxton after he fired them. Paxton has denied wrongdoing.

But despite the incumbent’s weaknesses, Paxton is still popular with Texas Republicans. Garza remains the underdog, battling her own low name recognition and a fundraising disadvantage in an expensive statewide race that is already demanding considerable resources for travel and TV ads.

“Garza is clearly competitive in this race, but she’s competitive based on Paxton’s weaknesses, because she’s not well known,” said Cal Jillson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University.

The Democratic establishment “does seem reluctant to put money behind her campaign, even though it’s the closest race and Paxton has weaknesses that make him the most vulnerable of statewide office holders,” Jillson said. “So they’re hanging back.”

The Garza campaign had nearly $500,000 on hand as of July, after raising about $1.1 million. Paxton has raised more than $8 million and still has about $3.5 million on hand to spend during the same period. The next campaign finance reporting deadline is in October.

Bill Compton, a Dallas lawyer who’s often donated to Democratic candidates in the past, would agree with Jillson. He said he’s still hesitant to write a check to Garza, whom he described as “an unknown.”

Compton attended the Dallas Democratic Forum where Garza spoke earlier in the day and said he liked what he heard. But he and others view the candidate right now only as an “alternative” to Paxton.

[…]

The Democratic Attorneys General Association launched a digital ad buy targeting attorney general candidates in various states, including Texas, said Geoff Burgan, a spokesperson for the group. “We’ve also provided focus groups, polling, and video throughout her time as the nominee,” Burgan said in an email.

Indirectly, Garza was helped by the messy, Republican primary and runoff that included many negative ads targeting Paxton.

“These were Republicans in these ads saying, “I don’t trust Ken Paxton to be attorney general,” Burgan said. “These are people that Republican voters listen to.”

Candidates without name recognition typically work with their donors to raise enough money to talk to the general public over a period of months, said Jillson, the political scientist. “You introduce yourself with a series of ads and then slam your opponent toward the end,” he said.

“And she just hasn’t had the money to do that and doesn’t have the money today,” Jillson said.

Garza said her campaign outraised Paxton in the last reporting period: “We have the momentum.”

“I keep telling folks this is our race to lose,” Garza said. “This is the closest we have come in almost 30 years and it’s time we elect a Democrat to this office.”

On the one hand, the Attorney General race usually doesn’t draw much money. On the other hand, I couldn’t explain Bill Compton’s reasoning if you gave me an answer key and a psychological profile of him. The story refers to recent polling, in which Garza is generally the closest Democratic candidate to their opponent, albeit by point or two and often with more undecideds. I’m always skeptical of stories about how this downballot Dem or that is “the Democrats’ best chance of winning statewide office” because I think the ticket will rise and fall mostly on how the guy at the top does and what the national environment is like, but we have seen crossover support for Paxton opponents before. I expect we’ll see it again, and for sure some extra cash would help with that. I still think the best thing that can happen to Rochelle Garza – and Mike Collier, and Susan Hays, and the rest – is that Beto wins or comes very, very close. It’s a lot easier to see her and others’ paths to victory from there.

Endorsement watch: Of course it’s Collier

The Chron writes one of the longest and most effusive endorsements I’ve ever seen for Democratic Lt. Governor candidate Mike Collier.

Mike Collier

Mike Collier won’t just promise to lower your property tax bill, he’ll tell you how he’s going to do it. And if you don’t quite understand all the math and jargony tax code talk, the affable certified public accountant and longtime consultant for investors in the energy industry will make it real simple with a few water bottles or any other props within his grasp.

That’s what he did during his screening with the editorial board last week. When our furrowed brows apparently belied some confusion about the particular loophole he claims is the holy grail to Texas tax relief, the candidate for lieutenant governor grabbed one water bottle that represented a skyscraper in a thriving, highly developed part of town that’s worth $500 million, and another bottle that represented a skyscraper in a run-down, lower-end part of town a few miles away that’s worth $200 million.

“This is full of people paying high rents and is very valuable property,” he says lifting one water bottle. “This is very different,” he says lifting the other, “It’s in a part of town where the values are not nearly as high, it’s only half full and it’s less valuable.”

You’d think the corporate owners of the more expensive property would have to pay more taxes, as homeowners do when our houses are appraised higher. But no. The owner just gets his lawyers to go down to the appraisal district and argue that both skyscrapers should be taxed at a similar level.

Astonishingly, they’ll likely get away with it, just like many other owners of large commercial and industrial properties across the state who each year deprive the state coffers of billions — Collier estimates it’s at least $7.5 billion. Homeowners have to make that up in our tax bills. Why? Because of a simple loophole that lawmakers could fix if they wanted but won’t: the state of Texas doesn’t define what a “comparable” property is.

So the rich guys get to claim it’s whatever they say it is and the apraisal districts often don’t have the time or high-power lawyers to fight them. Collier says he first started studying the problem around 2011 when he saw lawmakers cutting public education by $5 billion and yet his property taxes kept going up.

“I smelled a rat,” he told us.

Collier says he’d pass a few simple tweaks to close the loophole: define “comparable” by such things as location, age, utility. Pass a mandatory sales price disclosure, like most states have. And require everybody to pay their own legal fees in litigation rather than only losers paying.

That isn’t the only way Collier plans to get ordinary Texans some tax relief, but it’s one his favorite ways and one of our favorite reasons for endorsing the Democrat perhaps more enthusiastically than any other candidate on the ballot.

It goes on from there and you should read it. What’s amazing is how much of this very long endorsement is about Collier and his ideas and plans, and how relatively little is about Dan Patrick, despite how easy it would be to write a couple thousand words about why no decent person should think about voting for Dan Patrick. Being good enough and exciting enough to overcome the urge to trash Dan Patrick – that’s really saying something. Let’s hope enough people are listening.

In other endorsements, the Chron recommended Democrat Jon Haire in CD36, partly because Haire is a mensch and partly because incumbent Rep. Brian Babin is an insurrectionist. They also endorse State Rep. Christina Morales for re-election in HD145. As a constituent of hers, I concur.