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Brandon Dudley

2016 primaries: Harris County

Though this will be the first entry published in the morning, it was the last one I wrote last night, and I’m super tired. So, I’m going to make this brief.

Harris County Dem resultsHarris County GOP results

Democratic races of interest, with about 86% of precincts reporting

District Attorney: Kim Ogg with 51%, so no runoff needed.

Sheriff: Ed Gonzalez (43%) and Jerome Moore (30%) in the runoff.

Tax Assessor: Ann Harris Bennett (61%) gets another crack at it.

Judicial races: Some close, some blowouts, some runoffs. Jim Sharp will not be on the ballot, as Candance White won easily, while the one contested district court race that featured an incumbent will go to overtime. Elaine Palmer in the 215th will face JoAnn Storey, after drawing 43% of the vote to Storey’s 28%. Those who are still smarting from Palmer’s unlovely ouster of Steve Kirkland in 2012 will get their chance to exact revenge on May 24.

Turnout: For some reason, Dem results were reporting a lot more slowly than GOP results. As of midnight, nearly 150 precincts were still out. At that time, Dem turnout had topped 200,000, so the final number is likely to be in the 210,000 to 220,000 range. That’s well short of 2008, of course, but well ahead of projections, and nobody could call it lackluster or disappointing. As was the case in 2008, some 60% of the vote came on Election Day. I think the lesson to draw here is that when there is a real Presidential race, fewer people vote early than you’d normally expect.

Republican races of interest, with 92% of precincts reporting

Sheriff: Ron Hickman, with 72%.

Tax Assessor: Mike Sullivan, with 83%. Kudos for not being that stupid, y’all.

County Attorney: Jim Leitner, with 53%.

Strange (to me) result of the night: GOP Chair Paul Simpson was forced to a runoff, against someone named Rick Ramos. Both had about 39% of the vote. What’s up with that?

Turnout: With 67 precincts to go, just over 300,000 total votes. Interestingly, that was right on Stan Stanart’s initial, exuberant projection. He nailed the GOP side, he just woefully underestimated the Dems.

Bedtime for me. I’m sure there will be plenty more to say in the coming days. What are your reactions?

Endorsement watch: Dudley and Sullivan

The Chron makes its endorsements in the Tax Assessor primaries.

Brandon Dudley

Brandon Dudley

It is the time of year when the Harris County tax assessor-collector gains sudden prominence: Jan. 31 is the due date to pay property taxes, and Feb. 1 is the last day to register for party primary elections. Both of those duties are handled by the tax assessor-collector’s office, in addition to vehicle registrations and title transactions. These basic services demand that the office be run with customer satisfaction and ease as the highest goals. With these priorities in mind, we endorse incumbent Mike Sullivan in the Republican primary and Brandon Dudley in the Democratic primary.

This year’s Republican primary for Harris County tax assessor-collector is a rematch from four years ago, when Mike Sullivan ousted incumbent Don Sumners. At the time, Sullivan offered a customer-focused alternative to Sumners’ office, which faced accusations of being overly politicized. The battlelines haven’t changed since. Sumners, 76, says he is running to serve as a self-proclaimed taxpayer advocate and watchdog.

“If you want an administrator, Sullivan is your man,” Sumners told the Houston Chronicle editorial board.

Mike Sullivan

Mike Sullivan

That’s exactly what we want. An administrator can ensure that taxpayer dollars are spent efficiently and effectively, and focus on the duties of office.


When she met with the editorial board, Democratic candidate Ann Harris Bennett, 62, had no difficulty listing the litany of problems she saw with the current incumbent tax assessor-collector. Brandon Dudley, however, listed the solutions. Dudley currently serves as chief of staff and general counsel for state Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, and that experience in the state Legislature is apparent. A graduate of the University of Houston Law Center with a background in social work, Dudley is a regular policy wonk. He is quick to point out the ways that wealthy commercial landowners can exploit loopholes in the property appraisal system, which shifts the tax burden onto average homeowners. Dudley, 42, has even reached out to other tax assessor-collectors across the state in search of innovative ideas and best practices for the office.

Bennett has run for this office once before, and she has a firm grasp of where it is today. Dudley has a vision for the future.

The Chron is far too kind to Sumners, who wasn’t just an overly political Tax Assessor, but also a massively incompetent Tax Assessor. I mean, any random third grader in HISD would do a better job than Sumners did in his two-year reign of error. To call this a no-brainer is to greatly understate the matter.

As for the Democratic side, my interview with Brandon Dudley is here and my interview with Ann Harris Bennett is here. One suspects that the Chron would be happy to endorse a random third grader over Don Sumners in November if he manages to win the GOP primary, but they will have a tougher choice if Mike Sullivan prevails. They did slap him on the wrist for not supporting online voter registration, so that may be the fulcrum on which their decision turns for the fall. But please, Republicans, don’t make it easy on them. You know as well as the rest of us what an idiot Sumners is. Let’s not take any chances that he could get his old job back.

Interview with Brandon Dudley

Brandon Dudley

Brandon Dudley

Democrats haven’t held the Harris County Tax Assessor’s office since long-serving Tax Assessor Carl Smith passed away in 1998. They came close in 2012, as first term incumbent Mike Sullivan won a three-way race with a shade less than 49% of the vote. Two candidates are vying for the opportunity to end that losing streak. Brandon Dudley is a longtime Chief of Staff to State Sen. Rodney Ellis, where he has worked on matters of tax fairness and voting rights. As an attorney, he has worked on criminal justice reform, while having served on the City of Houston’s Planning Commission, on the Board of Directors for Houston Downtown Management District, Midtown Redevelopment Authority, and the Texas Civil Rights Project – Houston. He was also a candidate for State District Court Judge in 2010. Here’s my interview with him:

You can see all of my interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2016 Election page.

Morris Overstreet to run for DA

I know we’re all still recovering from Tuesday, but the 2016 filing season is almost upon us, and the Democratic race for Harris County DA just became a contested race.

Morris Overstreet

Former appeals court judge Morris Overstreet announced Thursday that he would seek the Democratic nomination for Harris County District Attorney.

Overstreet, a former judge on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals who has been a licensed attorney since 1975, said he wanted to bring integrity to the state’s largest DA’s office, currently helmed by Republican Devon Anderson.

“I want to instill integrity, so that the people of Harris County have public trust in the office of the district attorney,” Overstreet said. “As a trial judge and a prosecutor involving hundreds of jury trials and thousands of non-jury trials, I’ve never had any criminal conviction reversed because of any error committed by me.”

Here’s a post of Facebook from Overstreet’s announcement. He had released a video on YouTube on October 28 teasing the announcement. Overstreet was a candidate for Chief Justice, 1st Court of Appeals in 2010, and more recently was appointed by the Waller County Sheriff to an independent panel of civilians to evaluate his department in the wake of Sandra Bland’s death. Overstreet joins Kim Ogg in the race, presumably against incumbent DA Devon Anderson, who has not yet announced but is expected to run and who as far as I know has not attracted a primary opponent. I look forward to the debate in this race, Lord knows there’s plenty to talk about.

As far as the rest of the primaries go, County Attorney Vince Ryan, the sole Democratic countywide officeholder, is expected to run again, and I have not heard word of a primary opponent nor of a Republican challenger yet, though I’m sure there will be the latter. Brandon Dudley, chief of staff to Sen. Rodney Ellis and 2010 judicial candidate, is running for Tax Assessor against Mike Sullivan; Ann Harris Bennett, who ran for Tax Assessor in 2012 and County Clerk in 2010 and 2014, is also running. So far, no one has announced on the Democratic side for Sheriff. The name people bring up when I ask about it is Precinct 1 Constable Alan Rosen, who would be up for re-election this year. He himself has not said anything, for the same reason former Sheriff Adrian Garcia couldn’t talk about running for Mayor – he’d have to resign as soon as he did say something. There’s some speculation around outgoing CM Ed Gonzalez as well, but Rosen is the name I keep hearing. Incumbent Sheriff Ron Hickman should have at least one primary opponent, 2012 candidate Carl Pittman, but beyond that I don’t know. I’ll do a roundup on judicial and legislative and other races another time. If you have a name and some reasonably informed scuttlebutt to add to this, by all means please do.

Harris County indigent defense costs trending down

Via Grits, here’s an email from the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition that shows some good news for Harris County.

New numbers from the Commission show that while total indigent defense expenses in Harris County increased by $4.7 million between 2007 and 2011, local indigent defense expenses were lower in 2011 than in 2007, and down more than $4 million from their 2010 peak.

In part, this may be due to the County’s increased use of alternative dispositions, greater care in case filings, and reliance on the new Public Defender’s Office.

To read more about the Public Defender’s Office, including staffing and support resources, workload and performance standards, and benefits in representation, click here.

That link is an email from Brandon Dudley to Jim Bethke of the Texas Indigent Defense Commission that goes into detail and shows the numbers. Grits summarizes it, and you should read both. While Dudley notes that his memo “should not be used as a substitute for the significant analysis being performed by the Justice Center, Council of State Governments” – a thorough review is expected later this year – it’s clear there’s good news to report. Check it out and see for yourself.

Filing report: Who is Ann Johnson?

On Friday afternoon, Annie’s List sent out an email to supporters naming some new candidates they’re supporting. One of the names given was Ann Johnson, who has filed to run in HD134, the first Democratic challenger to an incumbent Republican State Rep so far. A lot of us looked at that and said “Who’s Ann Johnson?” This is what the Annie’s List email says:

Ann is a respected attorney, law professor, cancer survivor and is no stranger to politics after having worked in both the Texas Legislature and the Clinton White House. She is the daughter of former State Representative Jake Johnson and former Judge Carolyn Marks Johnson. Today she manages the family’s law firm and represents plaintiffs in civil and criminal cases with a specialization in juvenile cases. In fact, she recently made statewide headlines after winning a landmark case in front of the Texas Supreme Court that helps protect children charged with prostitution.

The Republican incumbent, Sarah Davis, showed her true colors as a right-wing partisan when she voted for a budget that cut over $4 billion from Texas public schools; financial aid for 30,000 low-income students; basic healthcare for almost 300,000 women, almost $2 billion from nursing homes and more. Annie’s List believes that Ann Johnson is the right candidate to hold the incumbent accountable for her atrocious and out-of-step voting record and win by building a coalition of progressive and moderate voters that want a thoughtful, independent leader in Austin.

I would remind Annie’s List that Davis also voted for the initial House budget, which cut $8 billion from public education. Be that as it may, here’s Ann Johnson’s bio from her law firm’s page. Here’s a newspaper report and a Rick Casey column about cases she argued successfully; here’s a video of her before the Supreme Court in the latter case. She’s got an impressive resume, no question about it. Mostly at this point I’d say she needs to introduce herself to Democratic voters, as she doesn’t appear to have much of a recent history of activism. As a potential future constituent, I certainly plan to introduce myself to her.

In other news that affects my November ballot, we now have a challenger to SBOE member Terri Leo. Classroom teacher Patty Quintana-Nilsson, who left a comment on my post about SBOE races, has filed to challenge Leo. Her About Me page contains an early contender for Best Fact About A 2012 Candidate:

She is bilingual English/Spanish and has a good understanding of Swedish.

My college roommate’s best friend from back home in El Paso was half Mexican and half Swedish. This makes me happy in a way that I can’t quite articulate. Anyway, in other SBOE news, freshman member and Trinity University professor Michael Soto has filed for re-election, and according to the TDP, a fellow named Ruben Cortez Jr. has filed to succeed Mary Helen Berlanga in District 2. Cortez is Vice President of the Brownsville ISD Board of Trustees. No challenger yet for Republican freshman Charlie Garza in District 1.

The Trib has a pretty good guide to who has filed for what so far, if you’re as obsessive about that sort of thing as I am. There’s still a lot of races that lack candidates, but it’s early days yet. One last thing to add is that there is a third person looking at HD137, which is being vacated by Rep. Scott Hochberg, and that is Brandon Dudley, who is (I believe) State Sen. Rodney Ellis’ chief of staff, and was a judicial candidate in Harris County in 2010. None of the three reported candidates have filed yet.

Endorsement watch: Criminal district courts

The Chron did its endorsements for the criminal district courts in two parts. In part one, three of the eight recommended candidates are Democrats:

182nd Criminal District Court: The best choice for this court is Brandon Dudley, the Democratic challenger, a graduate of UH Law and a legislative aide to state Sen. Rodney Ellis.

185th Criminal District Court: Vivian King, the Democratic challenger, is a board-certified criminal defense attorney who has campaigned on the issue of increasing the number of pre-trial bonds granted to defendants charged with nonviolent offenses.

208th Criminal District Court: Loretta Johnson Muldrow, a Democratic defense attorney, is the best choice for this criminal bench.

In part 2, three of the five recommendations go to Democrats:

248th Criminal District Court: The Chronicle believes Democrat Jim Sullivan will bring years of trial experience as a defense attorney and a reformer’s zeal to the 248th.

262nd Criminal District Court: Democratic candidate Tom Berg brings an impressive mix of educational, legal and military credentials to his campaign for this criminal bench.

263rd Criminal District Court: Democratic challenger Alvin Nunnery brings extensive experience both as a prosecutor and a criminal defense attorney that makes him the Chronicle’s choice for this criminal court bench.

Here are the Q&As that I have for the endorsed candidates:

Brandon Dudley

Vivian King

Jim Sullivan

Tom Berg

I have not received responses from Muldrow or Nunnery. I do have responses from one Democratic candidate the Chron did not endorse:

Darrel Jordan, 180th Criminal Court (note: from the primary)

For Q&As from Republican candidates, see Big Jolly Politics.

Judicial Q&A: Brandon Dudley

(Note: I am running a series of Q&As for Democratic judicial candidates on the November ballot. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. These Q&As are primarily intended for candidates who were not in contested primaries. You can see those earlier Q&As, as well as all the ones in this series and all my recorded interviews for this cycle, on my 2010 Elections page.)

1. Who are you, and what are you running for?

Brandon Dudley and I’m running for Judge, 182nd Criminal District Court

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

Court has original jurisdiction over felony criminal cases

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

From the beginning of my career working hands on with incarcerated youth as a juvenile counselor, to writing laws at our capitol to improve justice in Texas courtrooms and communities, to serving as an attorney at the Innocence Project to exonerate the wrongfully convicted and improve the reliability justice around the nation, the common theme has always been the same — working for more fair and effective justice. I want continue that mission from behind the bench, and that’s why I’m running for judge.

I want to help establish a justice system in Harris County that truly promotes safety in our communities, treats everyone equally and fairly under the law, honors our constitution, and uses our taxpayer dollars effectively.

Unfortunately, what we have right now in Harris County is an ineffective and unfair justice system that: 1) Wastes countless taxpayer dollars on inefficient crime reduction practices. Our court dockets and jail are overcrowded primarily with low-level substance possession arrestees and those with mental illness, when we should concentrate on using our resources to protect us from serious criminals who threaten our homes.2) An indigent defense system that is not upholding the basic Constitutional principle that everyone, rich or poor, should be treated equally and fairly under the law. 3) Is plagued by evidence we can’t trust in our courtrooms– from a crime lab that encumbers us with unreliable evidence to faulty eyewitness identifications.

Each of these examples is inexcusable. Together, they are clear and convincing evidence that our criminal justice system needs to be improved. The result, we have a system that is not upholding it’s obligation to the people of Harris County to ensure the guilty are brought to justice and innocent victims are protected. We’ve had two more innocent individuals released in the past couple weeks, and we’ve had more proven wrongful convictions than almost any other jurisdiction in the country.

Even if you don’t care about the fundamental fairness issues, or the constitutional issues, there are serious public safety issues here. When our courtrooms send an innocent person to prison, that means the real criminal is still out there preying on the community.

When we use ineffective and expensive sentencing practices for non-violent, low level offenders, when we know there are more effective diversion and sentencing practices to deter these offenders, those are wasted taxpayer dollars that could be used to protect us from a rapist or keep a violent criminal of the streets.

And that’s why I’m running. I want to help chart a new course for the Harris County Justice System. One that actually makes our communities safer, ensures that all people are treated equally and fairly under the law, honors our constitution, and ensures the innocent are protected and the guilty brought to justice.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have 15 years of experience in the field of criminal justice.

I received my BA from the University of Texas at Austin, which is when I started working as a counselor at juvenile residential lock-up facilities. After graduating, I continued as a juvenile counselor, working with Texas’ most serious youth offenders at the Texas Youth Commission. These experiences inspired a desire to create and implement more effective programs to prevent crime in Texas communities and led me to enroll in the Graduate School for Social Work at the University of Texas at Austin. After graduate school, I directed educational and empowerment crime prevention programs for at-risk youth in the Greater Houston-Galveston area.

That experience strengthened my desire to effect change through more effective justice policies and led me to enhance my knowledge of criminal law and policy by attending the University of Houston Law Center. While at law school, I twice received the Public Interest Law Fellowship Award for my commitment to public service and promotion of fairness and equality in the law, and worked for a number of civil rights organizations and legal clinics on criminal justice policy and practice.

Since graduating from law school, I have gained vast criminal justice policy and legal experience. I currently serve as Chief of Staff and Legal Counsel for the office of Texas State Senator Rodney Ellis. In this capacity I have served as a key criminal justice policy advisor and legal counsel to the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, where I have written numerous laws to improve the effectiveness of the Texas criminal and penal codes, and rules of evidence. I have served as a lead legal counsel and advisor to the Governor’s Criminal Justice Advisory Council, the Texas Criminal Justice Integrity Unit, the Texas Task Force on Indigent Defense, and the Timothy Cole Innocence Commission– all bipartisan commissions charged with evaluating the effectiveness of the Texas justice system and making recommendations on how to improve it. Through these years of public service, I have earned the respect of law enforcement professionals, judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, legislators and advocates around the state; working together to bring effective crime prevention strategies to our courtrooms and communities.

I have also served as an attorney and policy advisor to the Innocence Project, an organization that works to exonerate the wrongfully convicted and promote effective policy reforms to improve the reliability of our criminal justice system.

Through these years of service, I have been instrumental in advancing numerous Smart on Crime reforms to improve the fairness and effectiveness of the Texas criminal justice system–particularly in the areas of criminal procedure, evidence reliability, creating effective diversion alternatives for low-level offenders, and improving the quality of indigent defense.

My expertise and service have been recognized with the Smart on Crime Achievement Award for the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition and the Most Outstanding Capitol Staffer by the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, and was recently participated in the American Leadership Forum’s 2009 Inaugural Criminal Justice Fellow class.

5. Why is this race important?

At the core of our democratic ideals of liberty and justice is the tenet that all people should be protected and secure, and treated equally and fairly, under the law. As I discussed in the previous questions; we’re failing to uphold those basic constitutional principles in Harris County.

Judges are the people we honor with the privilege honored with the privilege of acting as guardians of the law. That privilege requires more from our judges than just putting on a robe, trying cases and making rulings. It comes with the responsibility to be a full administrator of justice—a good judge protects the community by recognizing the need to improve our justice system, and possesses the courage to stand up to make sure the law works effectively and efficiently for all the people of Harris County.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

I have a proven record of working effectively with law enforcement, judges, attorneys, and community organizations around the state to advance effective crime prevention strategies to improve justice and fairness in our courtrooms and our communities. I want to bring that full range of experience, knowledge of the law, and commitment to justice to serve the people of Harris County in the courtroom. In short, I know the problems, and I have the knowledge, experience, and dedication to help fix them.