Endorsement watch: Really? That guy?

For some reason, the Chron endorses Rep. Harold Dutton in HD142.

Rep. Harold Dutton

As a graduate of Fifth Ward’s storied Wheatley High School, Rep. Harold Dutton has never equivocated on his legislation that enabled the state takeover, or “giveaway,” as Dutton calls it, over poor performance. And he still doesn’t express regret despite drawing two primary challengers who question it.

“When I looked at the reading scores for third graders, it was appalling,” he said of the schools in his district. Sure, he’s pushed for higher literacy standards and more screening for reading disorders for students to get the help they need, but for many he’s simply the guy who brought state-appointed Superintendent Mike Miles to town.


[T]his board has found common ground with the representative’s sense of urgency around the issue of schools and systems that fail students routinely. We endorsed him in the last primary that he very nearly lost.

This time around, his challengers shared an emphasis on education but both objected to the takeover and the loss of local control. Both were passionate but failed to persuade us they’d be better legislators in this tough political climate than the incumbent has been. Danyahel “Danny” Norris, 43, a studious lawyer, current plaintiff in a legal challenge to Texas voter laws and a former professor who helped expand adult education opportunities as a member of the Harris County Department of Education board, said he would’ve preferred other options, perhaps fining districts with bad scores and reinvesting the funds in struggling campuses. Attempting to manage a district’s budget this way doesn’t strike us as a better idea.

Clint Horn, 48, a personable pastor who works in leadership learning and development at MD Anderson Cancer Center, underscored the need for more accessibility to elected officials, something constituents currently displeased with Dutton might relish.

Their priorities largely overlapped with Dutton’s: fully funding public education, supporting early childhood education and opposing school vouchers, for example.

As for differences, while both challengers dinged Dutton for his decision not to cast a vote on the impeachment of Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton, the biggest divide seemed to emerge around transgender-related legislation. Horn described himself as holding a lot of conservative views and also being willing to listen to others. He sided with Dutton on several issues, including bills Dutton supported to require youth athletes to compete only according to their gender assigned at birth and another to ban puberty blockers and hormone therapy for trans kids. Norris diverged here saying the bills were overzealous.

My interview with Danny Norris is here. That picture of Dutton, which is from his campaign website, has got to be from his freshman legislative year of 1985. Click on the link to the Chron’s editorial to see something contemporary. If that were his biggest sin I wouldn’t care. It’s time for a change, let’s just leave it at that.

Next, the Chron endorses Bill Burch for Railroad Commissioner.

Bill Burch

Bill Burch recalls being one of the first people on the scene when a blowout on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico caused a massive explosion. As a well-control emergency response expert, he’s been called to help manage oil-related disasters across the globe from Algeria to Kuwait to the Niger Delta.

Few of these disasters, he said, rival the level of groundwater contamination and environmental malpractice he’s seen all across Texas as a result of the lax oversight of Texas’ oil and gas industry. While the Texas Railroad Commission purports to both promote that industry and protect the state’s natural resources, the reality is the agency has, for years, only shown interest in doing half of that job. Christi Craddick, the incumbent Republican chairwoman on the commission whose seat Burch is vying for, is so entrenched in the industry that she owns numerous mineral interests and refuses to recuse herself when the agency makes rulings on companies whose stock she owns.

Burch, 49, brings a level of expertise — and, we would hope, integrity — that is sorely lacking in the agency. He has a deep understanding of the technical complexities of drilling, wastewater disposal and even seismic activity, which has become a significant problem in parts of the oil-rich Permian Basin in West Texas. Even though he’s never run for office or held a government post, there is no question Burch has done his homework on the Commission. He can rattle off the number of districts the agency oversees and the inadequate number of inspectors they employ. If elected, he said he would propose dispersing inspectors across the state to monitor hundreds of oil wells and rigs, and push to raise their pay to attract and retain quality talent. Critically, for an agency that allows oil and gas companies to vent and flare methane and other toxic gases into the air with impunity, Burch said he would reject every requested flaring permit except in emergency situations.

“The Railroad Commission is intentionally set up to be a self-funded, self-regulated industry with lack of resources,” Burch told us. “They don’t want environmental regulations in the state of Texas. Under-funding the agency removes their ability to have any kind of teeth to hold operators accountable and enforce the laws.”

I got nothing for you on this one, I didn’t try to do interviews for this race. Just didn’t have the time to make it a priority. Check out Burch’s website and that of his opponent, Katherine Culbert, to learn more. The Chron cited Culbert approvingly as well, saying she had the proper qualifications but they preferred Burch. At least we don’t have any Grady Yarbrough types this time around. I note with some interest that the Erik Manning spreadsheet shows Culbert as having voted in the last four Republican primaries. That’s always going to stand out – sometimes that means the person is a convert, sometimes it means they’re up to no good. Looking at her website and her personal and campaign Facebook pages I don’t see anything that sets off red flags for me. But look for yourself and see what you think.

The Chron endorses Ashley Mayes Guice for the new Harris County Criminal Court at Law #16.

Ashley Mayes Guice

Fortunately, Harris County Democratic voters have two accomplished primary contenders competing for the bench. Juan J. Aguirre, 57, is a Del Rio native who has been a criminal defense attorney in private practice for nearly two decades, with experience in all 16 misdemeanor and 26 felony courts. Although he has been practicing for nearly a decade more than his opponent, Ashley Mayes Guice, we were more persuaded by the kind of experience Guice has under her belt, and feel certain she would hit the ground running.

Guice, 40, was raised in Katy and has practiced criminal law since 2011, with stints as a prosecutor and as a public defender. She has “sat in every seat in a courtroom a lawyer could possibly sit in,” she told us.

In 2022, after Judge Erica Hughes of Criminal Court-at-Law No. 3 was appointed to a federal immigration bench, Harris County Commissioners Court named Guice her replacement. Guice said she wasted no time in her 11-month tenure, presiding over four jury trials and decreasing the docket size by 20 percent. After the timing of her term didn’t allow Guice to run for the bench as an incumbent, the county court-at-law judges voted to keep her on as staff attorney. That birds-eye view Guice has gained by offering legal and ethical assistance to the judiciary on an administrative level would serve her well as a judge, helping her to run her docket smoothly and efficiently.

We appreciated that both Aguirre and Guice were sensitive to factors that lead to recidivism, as well as issues of indigent defense and mental health jail diversion. But Guice stood out for her evenhanded take on bail, which she was adamant about not using “as an instrument of oppression,” she said, even as she has revoked bonds in cases where someone charged with a misdemeanor went on to commit a higher-level offense.

My judicial Q&A with Ashley Mayes Guice is here, and my Q&A with Juan Aguirre is here. Always nice to have two strong choices.

And finally, the Chron went for another judicial challenger by endorsing Lillian Alexander in the 507th Family District Court.

Lillian Alexander

Judge Julia Maldonado, the county’s longest-serving family judge, is its lowest-ranked. In the 2023 Houston Bar Association poll, 51% of responding lawyers gave her “Needs Improvement,” the lowest grade. For “Demonstrates impartiality,” 52%. For “Follows the law,” 54% flunked her. For “Is courteous and attentive to attorneys and witnesses,” 58%.

She told us that she treats “everyone with dignity and respect” but we’ve seen problems with her temperament during our most recent endorsement screening and ones in the past.

Our editorial board values experience, so we tend to favor incumbents. In this case, Maldonado’s time on the bench leads us to believe that someone else would do a better job.

Her opponent in the Democratic primary, family law attorney Lillian Henny Alexander, promises to run a more respectful courtroom, and one that’s more hospitable to the everyday people who end up there. Alexander, 37, is a graduate of Texas Southern University’s Thurgood Marshall School of Law. Being the mother of two young children, she says, makes her especially sensitive to the needs of working families.

“People come to us in crisis,” says Alexander. “For some it’s the first time they’ve ever been in a court. We owe it to them to hold ourselves accountable.”

My Q&A with Judge Maldonado is here. I have just today received Lillian Alexander’s Q&A responses, so you will see them a little later this week. I will take this opportunity to once again implore the Chron editorial board to get back to doing endorsement screenings for the Civil Courts. Not doing so leaves a gaping hole in our knowledge base.

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2 Responses to Endorsement watch: Really? That guy?

  1. Joshua bullard says:

    Lillian alexander faces a number of election challenges, this is her first time having her name on any ballot so she will encounter a hit off the muscle, additionally Maldonado has long standing relationships in the community and the precinct judges are very satisfied with her performance and lets just pretend not to notice how her ballot name has sent shock waves in years past on primary elections in Harris county overcoming 2 maybe 3 opponents and still avoiding a run-off, the chronicle editorial board just throws a wild punch in the wind here, look for Julia Maldonado at 53.2% on election night march 5th .(I maybe wrong but i never am)

  2. Souperman says:

    I’m doing my research for my ballot, including the interviews on this site and the LWV voters guide, and while I don’t get a vote in HD142, what Rep. Dutton put for his qualifications in the LWV guide was “I have been previously elected to this position since 1984” and for his priorities “Public Education and Public Education”. I’m sorry, but neither would sway me to vote for him were I in the district. Basically, “vote for me because I’ve been here since Reagan was reelected” and “I really care about education, but not enough to spill the beans about what I want to do to improve it and I’m going to be really quiet about Mike Miles and who enabled him”.

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