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Yes, you can use toll road funds for non-road projects

Who knew?

Surplus revenues from Harris County’s toll road system for years have paid for improvements to nearby roads and infused funds into street rebuilds around the county.

Now, the Harris County Toll Road Authority is about to go off-road. Under a plan unveiled Tuesday, the tolling agency will spend $53 million connecting existing cycling, running and hiking trails and building new ones. The projects, sketched out in a sweeping plan presented to Commissioners Court, aim to reconnect neighborhoods on opposing sides of the county’s tollways and leverage county money with that of management districts and other local agencies aiming to add trails.

“The toll road for a long time has been focused on finishing its system,” Executive Director Roberto Trevino said. “That’s changing to how do we manage it, and provide better mobility and connectivity even if you are not on the toll roads.”

The court approved the plan on a 3-2 vote, with Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey and Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle voting against it.

If fully built, the plan envisioned by HCTRA officials is a network of 236 miles of trails, usable by cyclists, runners and others, mostly adjacent to the sprawling county toll road system, primarily the 82-mile Sam Houston Tollway that rings the metro area. Made up of longer “network spine” projects of 5 miles or more, smaller community connectors that link local neighborhoods and targeted projects to build onto existing trails proposed by others, the total cost of all the links could reach $600 million or more and take years to build.

The effect, Trevino said, would be a much more inclusive transportation system.

“We are putting a focus on the areas around the toll road and putting back quality of life,” he said, noting the safety challenges some areas face because of the region’s large roads and the “divisive” discussions about how to integrate bicycle and pedestrian safety without compromising automotive travel.

Actually, we appropriated toll road funds for flood mitigation projects just last year, so we did actually know this. That won’t stop some heads from exploding at the thought of spending this money on (gasp!) BIKE TRAILS, but who cares? It’s legitimate transportation infrastructure, it will help mitigate road traffic a little by giving people safe options for not driving when they just have a short distance to go, and it will absolutely be a boon to quality of life. People use the heck out of the White Oak and Heights bike trails in my neighborhood. A lot of it is leisure travel rather than commuter or task-focused travel, but that’s fine. Quality of life is a big deal, and it’s a big return on the investment. It’s about time we used some of this money for this purpose. Stace has more.

Endorsement watch: Reruns

The Chron re-endorses Lesley Briones for Commissioners Court Precinct 4 in the Democratic primary runoff.

Lesley Briones

The crowded Democratic race for Harris County Precinct 4 commissioner has narrowed, but the runoff remains competitive. Because of new precinct boundary lines, which include most of western Harris County before reaching into the West University area and curving back up and around Interstate 10, Republican and incumbent Jack Cagle will face the Democratic runoff winner with perhaps less of an edge than usual for incumbents.

Our pick for the spot, Lesley Briones, secured 34 percent of the vote, impressive in a field with three other candidates that got vote shares in the double digits. She will face challenger Ben Chou, who got 25 percent of the vote. At least one internal poll now shows him neck and neck with Briones in the lead-up to the runoff.

We wrote in February that the choice before voters was a tough one. That hasn’t changed. Neither has our endorsement.

Yes, I can confirm that the Chron endorsed Briones for March. That’s fine, and it’s fine if they want to remind us of who they have already recommended as we approach early voting for the primary runoffs – as I noted before, all of their March endorsees who were in Democratic races that went to runoff made it to that runoff, so they have no races on our side to revisit. They had at least one on the Republican side and made a new choice for County Judge. All I’m asking is that in addition to however many ICYMI pieces they go back and revisit the three judicial races that they ignored in March and make a choice now. I swear, it is not too much to ask.

BTW, my interview with Lesley Briones from the primary is here and my interview with Ben Chou is here. All my interviews from March plus judicial Q&As can be found here, and you can add the interviews with Janet Dudding for Comptroller, and Staci Childs and Coretta Mallet-Fontenot for SBOE4, plus a judicial Q&A with Beverly Armstrong for the 208th Criminal District Court.

Actually, May Election Day vote reporting was basically fine

This headline is correct, but it leaves out some relevant details.

Even with help from constable’s offices, Harris County again was the last of the state’s largest counties to finish counting Saturday’s election results, turning its final tally to the Texas Secretary of State’s office after 9:30 Sunday morning.

In a move touted by the Harris County Elections Administrator’s Office, constable deputies picked up ballot boxes from the 465 polling locations on Election Day and delivered them to the county’s central counting station. Typically, that responsibility has fallen to election judges, the final task at the end of their 15-hour day. Even with deputies taking over delivery duties, results from Harris County slowly trickled in hours after other big Texas counties had reported their tallies.

Dallas County and Tarrant County sent complete results to the state shortly after midnight, while Harris County’s results came in around 9:37 am on Sunday, according to the Texas Secretary of State’s office. With hundreds of polling locations spread out over 1,700 square miles, the state’s most populous county has a history of delayed election returns.

Outgoing Elections Administrator Isabel Longoria announced her resignation following a botched March primary election. The county took 30 hours to finish counting and then two days later announced it found 10,000 ballots that had not been included in its final vote count. Longoria took the blame for the miscues and resigned days later. Her resignation takes effect July 1.

The Harris County Election Board — consisting of Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, District Clerk Marilyn Burgess, Tax Assessor-Collector Ann Harris Bennett and the heads of the county Democratic and Republican parties — voted last month to hire a national search firm to find Longoria’s replacement.

Deputy constables have picked up and delivered ballot boxes during early voting in previous elections, but this time they delivered ballot boxes on Election Day, as well. Nadia Hakim, a spokesperson for the Elections Administrator’s Office, said the constables also will assist with the primary runoff election set for May 24.

The county’s elections office boosted its staff on Election Day by bringing in employees from most constable’s offices, along with Harris County employees across several divisions who were available to help, Hakim said. The process, she said, went smoothly.

Asked why the county was the last to report results, Hakim noted Harris County still was within the 24-hour deadline for reporting results to the state, and said there was no issue. Harris County is the third largest county in the country, she added.

Here’s the thing: The Elections Office was updating its results every hour on the hour Saturday night. I know this because I get an email from that office every time there are new results, and I have an email from them with those updated results every hour from 7 PM when the EV totals were posted up until 3 AM, when 95% of the results were in. Maybe that’s slower than you want – as of the midnight report, only about a third of the votes had been counted – but as someone who has spent many an hour by the computer hitting Refresh on the browser, it’s the lack of updates, and the unpredictability of when the next one will arrive, that truly drives us up the wall. This might have felt drawn out, but at least you knew when to check again.

Can we do better than this? I think we can certainly try, and I would hope that whoever the Election Board hires in July will have some solid ideas for how to achieve that. Until then, getting updates on a regular schedule will help most of us keep our blood pressure under control.

Where are the endorsements?

As you know, early voting has begun for the May 7 election, which includes two Constitutional amendments and the special election for HCC District 2. As of last night when I drafted this, I see no endorsements in any of these elections on the Chron’s opinion page. Are these elections not worth it to them, or have they just not gotten around to them yet? I sure hope it’s the latter, and that they will rectify that quickly. I don’t know what they’re waiting for.

Seventeen days after that election will be the primary runoffs. A quick check of the Erik Manning spreadsheet confirms for me that in all of the Democratic primary runoffs for which the Chron issued a March endorsement, their preferred candidate is still running. In ballot order:

CD38 – Duncan Klussman
Lt. Governor – Mike Collier
Attorney General – Joe Jaworski
Comptroller – Janet Dudding
Land Commissioner – Jay Kleberg
SBOE4 – Staci Childs
HD147 – Danielle Bess
185th Criminal Court – Judge Jason Luong
208th Criminal Court – Kim McTorry
Commissioners Court Precinct 4 – Lesley Briones

You may or may not agree with these, but those are who the Chron picked. They have no races to revisit among them. They do, however, have three more races to consider, which were among those they skipped in Round One:

312th Family Court – Judge Chip Wells vs Teresa Waldrop
County Civil Court at Law #4 – MK Singh vs Treasea Treviño
Justice of the Peace, Precinct 1 Place 2 – Steve Duble vs Sonia Lopez

The links are to my judicial Q&As for those who submitted responses. You can find all the Q&A and interview links from the primary here. More recently I interviewed Staci Childs and Coretta Mallet-Fontenot in SBOE4; I will have an interview with Janet Dudding on Monday. There’s no need to rush if the Chron wants to circle back to these races they ignored originally – they can wait till after the May 7 election, but not too long since early voting there will begin on May 16. It’s only three runoff races (*), plus those two Constitutional amendments and that one HCC race. C’mon, Chron editorial board, you can do this.

(*) There may be some Republican runoffs for them to revisit as well. I didn’t check and am obviously not as interested. I doubt most Republican runoff voters are either, so whatever. The HD147 special election is between the same two candidates as in the primary runoff, so we can assume the endorsement for one carries over to the other.

State task force recommendations on AstroWorld

Interesting.

To avoid a repeat of the mayhem at last year’s deadly Astroworld Festival, Texas needs to standardize its event permitting process, establish “clearly outlined triggers” for stopping shows and ensure local public safety agencies are organized in a clear chain of command during large events, a state task force recommended Tuesday.

The event permitting process currently is “inconsistent across the state, which can lead to forum shopping by event promoters,” according to the task force that recommended a universal permitting template with a standardized checklist for counties to consult before issuing permits.

The group, appointed by Gov. Greg Abbott after 10 people died from injuries sustained during rapper Travis Scott’s show last November, also advised event promoters to develop “unique contingency plans” for venues including NRG Park — formed by a series of parking lots — that fans can easily stampede. The venue perimeter was breached at least eight times leading up to Scott’s 2021 performance.

Presenting its findings in a nine-page report, the Texas Task Force on Concert Safety said its recommendations are “narrowly tailored to address gaps that were identified as contributing to safety failures at the Astroworld event.” Members of the task force who met over the last five months included law enforcement officials, public safety experts, state agency employees and music industry representatives.

“While some level of risk is inherent in any mass gathering, it is the opinion of the [task force] that proper planning will allow Texans to enjoy safe performances, concerts, and other culturally significant events,” the report reads.

More uniform permitting regulations would also help mitigate confusion that can arise at venues located under the jurisdiction of multiple government entities and public safety agencies, the report found.

The Astroworld Festival took place on Harris County property but lies within the city limits. The city approved all permits for the event, and the city fire marshal — who is responsible for inspecting the NRG Park facility under an agreement inked between the city and county in 2018 — signed off on the site plan.

Still, the task force found “there was no occupancy load issued for the event, which is typically determined by the Fire Department.”

“A consistent permitting process could have helped establish jurisdiction and authority over ultimate event shutdown in the face of a life-threatening incident,” the report reads.

Houston Fire Chief Sam Peña said there was no occupancy permit for the Astroworld Festival because such permits do not exist for outdoor areas. The event organizers did secure permits required under the city fire code for pyrotechnics, tents and propane. The city released those and other permits in November.

“The event was a county-sanctioned event on county property,” Peña said Tuesday night, adding that he had not yet fully reviewed the task force’s report.

The task force report is here. It’s pretty straightforward, I don’t see anything unexpected or eye-catching about it. I must have missed the announcement of this particular task force, I don’t have a previous post about it. Whatever, this is fine.

That doesn’t mean that it is without some controversy.

Harris County Fire Marshal Laurie L. Christensen on Wednesday rejected findings issued by a state task force which laid some of the blame for the Astroworld tragedy on the county’s handing of the incident.

[…]

The task force recommended a universal permitting template with a standardized checklist for counties to consult before issuing permits.

But the findings again raise one of the central issues related to the Astroworld tragedy: Ever since it occurred, city and county officials have sought to avoid blame for the fiasco by pointing fingers at each other.

The task force pointed to two laws that have permitting requirements — one related to mass gatherings, and one related to outdoor music festivals. Both refer to county events, because incorporated municipalities can create their own ordinances.

The situation is complicated by the fact the Astroworld Festival took place on Harris County property but lies within Houston city limits. The city approved all permits for the event, and the city fire marshal — who is responsible for inspecting the NRG Park facility under an agreement inked between the city and county in 2018 — signed off on the site plan.

Echoing other county officials who spoke to the Chronicle, Christensen said she had reviewed the task force’s findings, but that the task force cited statutes that “simply do not apply” to the Astroworld event. The laws, she said, apply “only to performances outside the boundaries of a municipality.”

“The fact the Astroworld event occurred within the City of Houston along with the (memorandum of understanding) between Harris County and the City of Houston clearly shows Harris County lacked any jurisdiction for permitting the Astroworld event,” she said. “Our office will continue reviewing the recommendations over the next several weeks.”

City officials, including Fire Chief Sam Peña, have argued that the event was “a county-sanctioned event on county property.”

I’m not particularly interesting in a pissing contest between the city and the county, but it is fair to point out that the laws cited by the report didn’t apply here because of the county-property-within-city-limits aspect of NRG Stadium. That doesn’t mean we should just shrug our shoulders and move on, but if it is more complicated than the report suggests, then we need to wrestle with the complexity. This is the point at which I’m officially out of my depth, so let me just say that we’re not off the hook and we shouldn’t act like it.

I should note further that there is a local task force working on its own report, and that first story gave us an update on it.

Meanwhile on Tuesday, another task force – this one selected by city and county officials – continued to meet to review communication, protocols and permitting requirements locally. City officials had more to say about that task force’s work than the one in Austin. Mary Benton, spokeswoman for Mayor Sylvester Turner, said the mayor has not yet reviewed the state task force’s report but would do so soon. She said the local group continues to meet and will write its own report for Turner and Precinct 2 Harris County Commissioner Adrian Garcia.

“The task force will incorporate nationally agreed principles and draw from national and international strategies, policies, guidelines, standards, and doctrine,” Benton said. “The work is multidisciplinary and will cover issues presented by crowded places and mass gatherings in general. The task force has already begun this work, met earlier today and has meetings planned in the future.”

County Fire Marshal Christianson is among the local task force members. I look forward to reading that report as well. And now that the state has done the local task force the favor of publishing first, we here can respond to it as needed. Just get moving and get it done.

We will have a new elections administrator on July 1

Let’s get the best we can.

The Harris County Election Board on Tuesday voted to accept Elections Administrator Isabel Longoria’s resignation and hire a national search firm to find a replacement, two weeks after the five-member panel could only agree to adjourn without taking any action.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, who chairs the election board, said the county would post the job Tuesday, as well as review applications submitted when the elections administrator job was created in 2020. Before then, elections in Harris County were managed by the county clerk’s office, while the tax assessor-collector’s office handled voter registration and maintained the voter rolls.

“I think it bodes well that the body has worked well together,” Hidalgo said afterward.

The board, which at times sparred over election procedures and replacing Longoria, approved the county administration’s preferred search firm and settled on the job description the firm will circulate and the timeline to have a new elections chief in place by July.

The steps taken were the first since an April 6 meeting ended with nothing achieved after members balked at proceeding with a a search before they formally had accepted Longoria’s resignation. Though she announced her intent to resign after the botched March primary, the election board had — until Tuesday morning — never accepted it.

[…]

Hidalgo had defended leaving Longoria in place through the upcoming election, saying officials needed to efficiently find a permanent replacement by mid-year and not try to transition to an interim leader and then into a second permanent person.

“I am afraid if we have another transition it will complicate things,” she said.

As a compromise, the board agreed to a change in its timeline by [Republican Party Chair Cindy] Siegel to meet by June 30 to appoint a permanent administrator or an interim replacement, assuring Longoria would not last into July.

“I just want to make sure we are not artificially boxing ourselves in,” Siegel said.

See here for the previous update. I think it’s fine to not want to have an interim administrator in place for the May elections, and it’s also fine to want to ensure that we have closed the books on Longoria’s term by July 1. It would be nice to have the next administrator in place by then, but I’d rather we get it right than we get it done quickly. There’s plenty to learn from the last couple of years’ experience, and I hope that whoever comes in fully avails themselves of that opportunity.

Second lawsuit filed over Galveston redistricting

Similar grounds, different plaintiffs.

Commissioner Stephen Holmes

A coalition of civil rights groups in Texas filed a federal lawsuit Thursday against Galveston County, alleging that the county’s redistricting plan intentionally discriminates against a growing minority population in the Gulf Coast community.

The complaint, shared first with CNN, marks the second lawsuit that seeks to overturn maps approved by the Republican majority on the county’s governing body. Last month, the Justice Department filed a federal lawsuit against the county on similar grounds — in a redistricting dispute that has garnered national attention.

The new lawsuit — brought by the Texas Civil Rights Project and the Southern Coalition for Social Justice on behalf of local branches of the NAACP and the Galveston League of United Latin American Citizens Council 151 — alleges that the new map diminishes the voting power of Black and Hispanic voters by splitting up the only majority-minority precinct.

The new map endangers the reelection of Stephen Holmes, the county’s only Black commissioner, who has served on the board for 22 years. Holmes is next on the ballot in 2024.

The lawsuit alleges the Republicans majority pushed through a “racially discriminatory map” that “largely took place behind closed doors.”

Sarah Chen, an attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project, called the map — and the process used by the Republican majority in the county to approve it — “egregious examples of people in power … exercising that power to dilute the votes of racial minorities.”

[…]

Both this lawsuit and the complaint by the Justice Department underscore the difficult legal terrain that voting rights advocates now face in challenging alleged discriminatory maps. This cycle marks the first round of redistricting since the US Supreme Court in 2013 gutted the so-called preclearance provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

That provision required states with a history of discrimination to first obtain the permission of the federal government or the courts before enacting new laws related to voting.

With those powers gone, the Justice Department’s lawsuit relies largely on another section of the federal voting rights law, Section 2, which puts the burden on the federal government to prove its case.

The lawsuit filed Thursday cites Section 2, but also argues that map violates the constitutional rights of Black and Latino voters to equal protection of the law.

Chen said civil rights groups are looking for “different pathways” in voting rights cases “because victory is never assured.”

See here and here for the background, and here for a copy of the complaint. The Texas Civil Rights Project, which is co-counsel along with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, has a tweet thread about this as well. I haven’t read through the two of them so I can’t say where they are specifically similar and different, but the coverage suggests they have overlap. It won’t surprise me if these two lawsuits are eventually combined. I remain less than confident that the plaintiffs will get the relief they seek given the hostility the federal courts have shown towards voting rights in recent years, but I will say that I’m old enough to remember a day when a white majority reducing the political power of communities of color for the reasons of “because we can, that’s why” was considered to be in poor taste. I feel like we should try to return to those days, but what do I know? Daily Kos has more.

When is an emergency no longer an emergency?

I don’t know, but not yet.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo still has emergency powers to handle COVID, after a proposal to end her authority failed at commissioners’ court this week.

The proposal, by Precinct Four Commissioner Jack Cagle, failed on a 3-2 vote Tuesday, with the three Democratic members voting against.

Cagle sought to end the emergency powers granted to Hidalgo, citing the major improvement in pandemic realities and the court’s ability to frequently and quickly convene.

Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis called the idea “ridiculous.”

“The mayor will still have emergency powers, the county judges around us would still have emergency powers,” Ellis said.

[…]

Since March 2020, Hidalgo and every county judge in Texas — along with mayors — have had extraordinary ability because of the public health risks of the pandemic to close and open public places, approve contracts and establish emergency shelters, testing sites and vaccine distribution locations. When a disaster is declared by the state — in this case across all 254 counties — county judges are considered the top health official and assume emergency powers similar to those of the governor.

The difference, Cagle argued, is the governor needs them because it would take weeks to reconvene the legislature. Commissioners court can call a meeting in 72 hours.

I don’t want to spend too much time on this, as it was basically a stunt by Commissioner Cagle. It’s not even clear that Commissioners Court could have rescinded the emergency powers, as the preview story notes.

Numerous elected officials continue to have authority under the disaster declaration, including Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and all county judges across Texas. Under the state’s disaster declaration procedures, county judges in an affected area — in this case all of Texas — have emergency authority. Absent Abbott removing Harris County from the state’s disaster declaration, it is unclear whether Hidalgo would retain that authority with or without the support of local officials.

County judges typically need commissioners’ court approval, but their powers expand greatly as the head of county emergency management. Much of that comes from a 1975 state law that gave special responsibility to mayors, county judges and county health officials.

Exercising the powers, however, is different than having them, some officials said.

“We used common sense, but as the emergency has dragged on I think we have used that authority less and less because we didn’t need to,” said Jason Millsaps, chief of staff to Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough.

Still, Millsaps said Keough maintains the authority.

If literally every other county has retained emergency powers for their Judge, it makes no sense at all for Harris County to do otherwise. When the state and the country are no longer on emergency footing, which is to say no longer feels the need to act quickly in the event of another variant or other crisis, then we can talk.

Justice Department sues over Galveston County Commissioners Court map

Good, but remember how the federal courts are these days before getting too optimistic.

Commissioner Stephen Holmes

The Department of Justice on Thursday sued Galveston County over its new redistricting map, accusing Republican county officials of violating the Voting Rights Act last year when they carved up their Commissioners Court precincts into four majority-white districts.

The redrawn map dismantles the precinct represented by Commissioner Stephen Holmes, the only Democrat and minority member of the court, all but ensuring his defeat in 2024 if the map remains intact.

Under the new layout, Republicans are poised to gain a 5-0 majority on the governing body for Galveston County, where 38 percent of voters cast their ballots for Democrat Joe Biden.

In a 25-page complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, Justice Department officials alleged that Galveston County’s freshly drawn boundaries dilute the voting strength of Black and Hispanic voters, denying them “an equal opportunity to participate in the political process.” The lawsuit accuses the county of violating Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which broadly bars racially discriminatory voting practices, including those that minimize the voting strength of racial minority groups.

In asking the court to toss the precincts for “any future elections” — and order the county to redraw a map “that complies with Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act” — the Justice Department also cited Galveston County’s history of drawing federal scrutiny over redistricting. In 2012, federal officials struck down the county’s commissioner, constable and justice-of-the-peace maps, finding that they ran afoul of the Voting Rights Act by diminishing the power of minority voters.

“Over the course of the past three decades, Galveston County has sought to eliminate electoral opportunities for the County’s Black and Hispanic voters,” the lawsuit reads. “The County has a long history of adopting discriminatory redistricting plans.”

[…]

Commissioners Court approved the latest boundaries in November, uprooting Holmes’ Precinct 3 from parts of the county he had represented since being appointed to the court in 1999. While the district had previously cut through the middle of Galveston County, covering an area where the majority of eligible voters were Black and Hispanic, it is now consolidated in the largely white and Republican northwest corner of the county, taking in Friendswood and League City.

Holmes has said he expects to be replaced by a white candidate, given that only about a quarter of the eligible voters in his new precinct are minorities.

“Even though Galveston County is 45 percent minority, every single member of the Galveston County Commissioners Court, under the new map, is going to be Anglo,” Holmes said in an interview last November. “Minorities would not be represented by, or have the opportunity to elect, the candidate of their choice.”

See here for the background, and here for a copy of the complaint. The story notes the 2012 redistricting in Galveston that was blocked for being discriminatory, and also notes that that happened back when we still had preclearance. We don’t have that, and we do have a Supreme Court that is increasingly aggressive in allowing all kinds of radical Republican redistricting maps to stand, so like I said, I’m not optimistic. But what else are you gonna do? Reform Austin has more.

Meet the new judge of County Civil Court at Law #4

So far, this is the only public announcement I have seen:

There was an item (#281 if you search) on the March 8 Commissioners Court agenda to discuss and possibly take action on this vacancy, which had stretched on for awhile. While the County Civil Court at Law #4 website still showed Lesley Briones as Judge as of the weekend, I assume that will be updated soon. This appointment is for the rest of the year only, as the position will be filled for the next four years in the November election. As noted before, Manpreet Monica Singh and Treasea Treviño are in the runoff to be the nominee for that bench. For now, congrats to Judge Ayala, who I’m sure will do an excellent job in the interim. And I’m glad Commissioners Court finally got around to this.

Longoria to resign as Election Administrator

Ultimately for the best.

Harris County Elections Administrator Isabel Longoria submitted her resignation Tuesday, about an hour and half after Judge Lina Hidalgo announced she intended to replace her following last week’s bungled primary contests.

Longoria said her resignation would take effect July 1.

“I think this date ensures that there’s a presiding officer during the May and June elections, and allows the election commission the time they need to find a replacement,” Longoria said.

She said she took responsibility for last Tuesday’s miscues, including the discovery Saturday of more than 10,000 ballots that had not been included in the final, unofficial count. Her office also had been faulted for a slow count that took 30 hours to tally.

Hidalgo said some mistakes were due to new rules under SB1, the voting law the Legislature passed last year, while others were simply unforced errors by Longoria and her staff.

[…]

Election judges who spoke at Commissioners Court on Tuesday described numerous problems during the primary voting period, including inadequate supplies, malfunctioning machines and a lack of support from elections office staff.

Art Pronin, president of Meyerland Area Democrats, was not at Tuesday’s meeting, but applauded Longoria’s resignation, saying he has been inundated with texts and calls from demoralized and angry precinct chairs and election workers since last week.

“This feeling comes from a lack of support on Election Day,” he said. “They told me of issues from their training session, lacking enough paper at the polling sites and being left on hold up to an hour when calling in for help with machines.”

He added, “I urge the hiring of a highly qualified individual who has a history running elections with the machines we now use here, along with robust voter education on machine and mail ballot usage, and more support for our precinct chairs and judges.”

See here and here for some background. I feel bad about this – I like Isabel, I thought she was a perfectly fine choice for the job when she was appointed, but it just didn’t work out. I’ve seen some similar comments to those made by Art Pronin among activist Dems on Facebook, and it’s just not possible to continue in a job like that when you’ve lost people’s confidence. I wish Isabel all the best, I hope we can learn from this experience to make the May and especially November elections run more smoothly, and I absolutely hope we make a solid choice for the next administrator.

Also last night a bit after I wrote this, the updated primary totals were posted. As I expected and wrote about, none of the races were changed by the additional mail ballots. I’ve been annoyed by some of the coverage of the uncounted absentee ballots, mostly because the mention that some races “could” be affected completely fails to address the fact that the leaders in the closest races were almost always also the leaders (often by a lot) of the counted mail ballots. Indeed, Joe Jaworski went from having a 4,129 to 1,658 advantage in mail ballots over Lee Merritt to a 6,572 to 2,643 lead, a net gain of 1,458 votes. Harold Dutton netted 80 votes as well. It’s not that these or other races couldn’t have been affected – theoretically, it was possible – but leaving out that context was really misleading. It could have happened, but it was very unlikely based on the information we had, that’s all I’m saying. I’ll keep my eye on the results and will post when they appear to be finalized. The Trib has more.

UPDATE: Forgot to mention, final turnout for the Dems was 165,983, or about a thousand less than 2018. For Republicans it was 187,651, a gain of about 30K.

UPDATE: Stace has more.

There were mail ballots not included in the count on Election Day

Oof, this is bad.

Harris County Election Administrator Isabel Longoria’s office on Saturday announced that they have identified approximately 10,000 mail-in ballots that were not added to the original count on Election Night.

The county said that approximately 6,000 of the uncounted ballots were for the Democratic primary and approximately 4,000 were for the Republican primary.

“The oversight occurred between the hours of 1 and 4 a.m. as the political parties that make up the Central Count Committee were reviewing ballots,” Longoria’s office said in a press release.

They said the votes were scanned into the tabulation machines but not transferred, which meant they were not being counted in the unofficial count on Election Night. The votes are set to be added to the final count when the Central Count Committee next meets on Tuesday, according to the elections administrator’s office.

The county says it has reached out to the Secretary of State’s office as an investigation into what happened takes place.

“We are committed to full transparency and will continue to provide updates as they are available,” Longoria’s office said.

[…]

In a statement Sunday to KHOU 11 News, the Harris County Elections Office said, “We are focused on ensuring that every ballot cast is accounted for through this canvassing process. We will continue to be transparent in that process through our updates but as you can imagine it is most critical that everyone on our team stay focused and commit all of their time to the task at hand. We will be discussing at commissioners court and that will be an opportunity for broadcast to hear from our office.”

The Chronicle story adds a little more.

“While we understand the seriousness of this error, the ability to identify and correct this issue is a result of a lengthy, rigorous process and is a positive example of the process ultimately working as it should,” the elections office said.

The Secretary of State’s office said they notified Harris County officials of the oversight on Friday after they noticed a discrepancy on the election night reconciliation form, which indicated a difference of 10,072 between the number of ballots counted and the number of eligible votes cast.

“We agree that this is the process working as it should, and we note that it’s only because this Election Night reconciliation form is now required for all 254 counties that we were able to identify the discrepancy and work with the county to find out exactly what happened,” said secretary of state spokesman Sam Taylor.

I guess these are votes that were counted, but the official totals were not updated correctly to reflect this. That’s my interpretation of the statement, I could be wrong. I hope we get some clarity from the official vote canvass on Tuesday.

The first thought one has when seeing something like this – okay, the first thought I had – was “six thousand votes could be enough to change the outcome in some races”. So I went and reviewed all of the results, for both parties (four thousand votes is a lot, too). I looked at all of the close results, to see if the trailing candidate in a two-person race or the third-place finisher in a runoff situation might have a chance to catch up.

The first thing I did was to see how the candidates did with mail ballots in the posted results, on the assumption that the uncounted ballots will likely be similar to the counted ones. In all but two races on the Democratic side, the leading candidate also did better in mail ballots than the trailing candidate. (Example: Joe Jaworski, in second place in the AG primary by less than 1,500 votes statewide, received 4,129 mail ballots to third-place finisher Lee Merritt’s 1,658 mail ballots.) That doesn’t rule out the possibility that the trailing candidate could catch up, but it would require those uncounted ballots to be extremely different from the ones that are already in the official total. I consider that to be sufficiently unlikely as to be nearly impossible.

There were two races where the trailing candidate did better in mail ballots than the leading candidate. One such race is for the 263rd Criminal District Court, where incumbent Judge Amy Martin trailed challenger Melissa Morris by less than two percentage points. Martin led in mail ballots over Morris by a 5,489 to 4,012 margin, which is to say that she got 57.8% of the mail ballots. If we assume she got 57.8% of six thousand uncounted mail ballots, that’s 3,466 for her, and 2,534 for Morris, a net gain of 932 votes. But Morris led Martin by 2,520 votes overall, so that hypothetical net gain is not nearly enough to overcome the existing lead. By my count, Martin would need to win about 71% of the uncounted mail ballots to catch up to Morris. Not impossible, but not likely.

The other race was for County Civil Court at Law #4, where David Patronella finished third, about 4,000 votes behind Treasea Treviño. He also led Treviño in mail ballots, 3,753 to 2,342, with another 3,320 mail votes going to first place finisher Manpreet Monica Singh. If all of the mail ballots were only for Patronella and Treviño, Patronella would need nearly 5,000 of the 6,000 to gain entry into the runoff. With Singh earning about a third of the mail ballots on her own, there would likely be less than 4,000 total mail ballots left for the Patronella and Treviño, and the math from there is clear. This race isn’t going to change.

On the Republican side, there were fewer close races to begin with, and none that rose to this level of scrutiny. So at least we have that small bit of good news, which is that in the end it is very unlikely that any races will be affected by this error.

But holy crap, this is bad. It’s as basic an error as an election administrator’s office can make. Even if it doesn’t affect any results, people are justifiably going to be upset. It’s good that the error was caught before the vote was certified – that’s what the process should do – but it still took five days for it to be reported. The elections office has countered criticism of its slow election night reporting by saying they were focused on accuracy over speed. Needless to say, this undercuts that line of argument.

I’m willing to accept that there were difficulties on Election Day due to relatively new voting machines plus the paper ballot scanners, and people having their first experiences with them. I’m old enough to remember when people thought the eSlate machines were confusing and hard to use. I’m willing to accept that the ridiculous new requirements on mail ballots, which were rolled out in a chaotic fashion by the Secretary of State’s office, caused all kinds of havoc for election administrators everywhere, and forced election office workers to spend many hours trying to track down voters whose mail ballots needed to be fixed. I’m willing to accept that everyone was operating on little sleep at the time that this error happened. But it’s such a basic error, with such potentially enormous consequences that we luckily appear to have avoided, that there needs to be accountability for it. That has to fall on Isabel Longoria, the person in charge of the Elections Office. I get no joy from saying this, but Harris County is already in the state’s crosshairs, and we have to do better. I don’t see a way forward that doesn’t include a new person in charge of the Elections Office. We’ll see what Commissioners Court says.

Maybe suing to stop the vote count isn’t the best way to get the vote counted

Just a thought.

The Harris County Elections Division released the final, unofficial primary elections results early Thursday, following a GOP petition to impound the records which stopped vote counts hours earlier.

Citing malfunctions and a lack of testing of election machinery, Harris County Republicans alleged their party’s voters experienced irregularities that affected their vote count, according to the petition.

“For example, some voters were able to successfully submit their votes for the first page of their ballot but were unable to submit their votes for the second page of their ballot,” the petition, filed by Harris County Republican Party Chairman Cindy Siegel, states.

Republicans also alleged in the petition that improperly tested election machinery provided to them at various locations had issues with scanning ballots.

[…]

The petition, looking to impound the county’s elections records, was filed at 5:18 p.m. Wednesday, halting the vote count just before the 7 p.m. deadline.

Judge Ursula Hall of the 165th District Court denied the petition, according to court records, instructing Longoria to provide a status update at 11:30 p.m. and allowing the vote count to resume almost two hours after it had been stopped.

“At the time the petition was filed and the Central Count Board halted counting, Harris County Elections had tabulated approximately 99 percent of the ballots cast on Election Night,” Longoria said in an email Wednesday night.

I talked about some of this yesterday. Nearly all of the votes were counted by 1 PM on Wednesday. There were clearly some equipment issues, which caused problems with vote counting. We didn’t have those problems last November, though there were other issues that affected how long it took for results to be posted, so it would be good to understand why we had these problems this time around. I suspect that some of it was that there were voters using these machines for the first time, as the elections office mentioned. Turnout last November was 230K, while the combined Democratic and Republican turnout this week was over 340K. I suspect that there were a significant number of March voters who weren’t November voters – these are very different election contexts – so it may have been that there were a lot of newbies. If that is the case, then we really need to put a lot more resources into voter education, because we’re going to have more than twice that many people, maybe three times that many people, voting this November. Indeed, turnout in November 2018 was over 1.2 million, so that’s a hell of a lot more newbies. We need to get that ironed out, if it was a significant factor.

It’s also clear that the mail ballot issue was a problem, because it forced the elections office to spend a lot of time trying to contact voters whose ballots had been rejected, many of whom then had to trek to the office to fix them in person. The HCDP needs to work on that for its own voters, because that provision was aimed at us and it will take a chunk out of our vote total if we don’t do everything we can to minimize it. And I will say again, we deserve to have a full accounting of whose ballots and ballot applications got rejected along the way and what happened to them after.

Beyond that, to repeat what I said last November, we need to get some clear communication from the elections office about what did happen and why it happened and what they learned from it. I don’t put any faith in the Republican complaints – after the lawsuits some of them filed in 2020, they have zero credibility on these matters – but Commissioners Court can sure do their part to get some answers when the results are canvassed. There were some issues, from the new voting machines that many people hadn’t used before to the ridiculous mail ballot bullshit to some election judge shortages to various technical problems that can crop up. We have two low-key May elections, plus maybe a tiny June election (runoffs for the specials), and then a huge November election that really really really needs to run smoothly. The process to make that happen starts now.

Initial post-election wrapup

Just a few updates and observations to add onto what I posted yesterday morning. Any deeper thoughts, if I have them, will come later.

– Cheri Thomas and William Demond won their races for the 14th Court of Appeals. I didn’t mention them yesterday, just too much to cover.

– Also didn’t mention any of the SBOE races, four of which are headed to runoffs on the Dems side, including SBOE4 in Harris County. Those were all open or (with SBOE11) Republican-held seats. The three incumbents were all winners in their races – Marisa Perez-Diaz (SBOE3) and Aicha Davis (SBOE13) were unopposed, while Rebecca Bell-Metereau (SBOE5) easily dispatched two challengers.

– All of the district court judges who were leading as of yesterday morning are still leading today.

– Harold Dutton also held on in HD142, but the final result was much closer once the Tuesday votes were counted. He ultimately prevailed with less than 51% of the vote.

– Cam Cameron took and held onto the lead in HD132 (he had trailed by four votes initially), defeating Chase West 52.8 to 47.2, about 300 votes.

– Titus Benton was still leading in SD17, though his lead shrunk from 484 in early voting to 275.

– I touched on this in the runoff roundup post, but the perception that Jessica Cisneros was leading Rep. Henry Cuellar was totally a function of the order in which the counties reported their results. I say this because if you click on the race details for the CD28 primary on the SOS election returns page, you see that Cuellar led by more than 1,500 votes in early voting; he stretched that to about a 2,400 vote lead in the end, though it was just barely not enough to get to 50%. But because Bexar County was first out of the gate and thus first to be picked up by the SOS, and Cisneros ran strongly there, it looked like she was about to blow him out. There are a couple of tweets from Tuesday night that did not age well because of that.

– Statewide, the Dem gubernatorial primary will be a bit short of 1.1 million votes, up a tiny bit from 2018, while the GOP primary for Governor is over 1.9 million votes, comfortably ahead of the 1.55 million from 2018. More Republicans overall turned out on Tuesday than Dems statewide. In Harris County, it looks like the turnout numbers were at 157K for Dems and 180K for Republicans, with about 43% of the vote in each case being cast on Tuesday. Dems were down about 10K votes from 2018, Rs up about 24K. In a year where Republicans are supposed to have the wind at their backs and certainly had a lot more money in the primaries, I’m not sure that’s so impressive. That said, March is not November. Don’t go drawing broad inferences from any of this.

– At the risk of violating my own warning, I will note that the CD15 primary, in a district that is now slightly lean R and with the overall GOP turnout advantage and clear evidence of more GOP primary participation in South Texas, the Dem candidates combined for 32,517 votes while the Republicans and their million-dollar candidate combined for 29,715 votes. Does that mean anything? Voting in one party’s primary, because that’s where one or more local races of interest to you are, doesn’t mean anything for November, as any number of Democratic lawyers with Republican voting histories from a decade or more ago can attest. Still, I feel like if there had been more votes cast in that Republican primary that someone would make a big deal out of it, so since that didn’t happen I am noting it for the record. Like I said, it may mean absolutely nothing, and November is still a long way away, but it is what happened so there you have it.

– In Fort Bend, County Judge KP George won his own primary with about the same 70% of the vote as Judge Hidalgo did here. Longtime County Commissioner Grady Prestage defeated two challengers but just barely cleared fifty percent to avoid a runoff. The other commissioner, first termer Ken DeMerchant, didn’t do nearly as well. He got just 14.3% of the vote, and will watch as Dexter McCoy and Neeta Sane will battle in May. I confess, I wasn’t paying close attention to this race and I don’t have an ear to the ground in Fort Bend, so I don’t know what was the cause of this shocking (to me, anyway) result. Sitting County Commissioners, even first timers, just don’t fare that poorly in elections. Community Impact suggests redistricting might not have done him any favors, but still. If you have some insight, please leave a comment.

– As was the case in Harris, a couple of incumbent judges in Fort Bend lost in their primaries. I don’t know any of the players there, and my overall opinion of our system of choosing judges hasn’t changed from the last tiresome time we had this conversation.

This came in later in the day, so I thought I’d add it at the end instead of shoehorning it into the beginning.

Harris County election officials are still counting ballots Wednesday morning for the Tuesday Primary Election. Despite the Texas Secretary of State John B. Scott saying officials will not finish counting ballots by the deadline, Harris County Elections Administrator Isabel Longoria said she’s confident counting votes will be done.

“It’s going to take a couple of days to finish the entire process as we’ve always seen,” Longoria said. “I don’t have concerns about counting the election ballots for this election.”

[…]

Harris County Voting Director Beth Stevens said the paper ballot system slows down the process for both voters and election workers.

“We’re working with paper here, what we know is we have hundreds of thousands of ballots processed accurately and securely here in our central counting station and we’re working with 2.5 million registered voters,” Stevens said.

In addition to voter registration identification mishaps, and mail-in ballot rejections, Harris County election officials also said damaged ballots have become an issue in the counting process. According to Stevens, damaged ballots have to be duplicated before being scanned by electronic tabulators and counted in at the central polling location. Officials said this could take some time.

“There was a negative attempt to make Harris County look bad in this moment and it’s completely unnecessary because we are processing as appropriate,” Stevens said. “Voters can be sure that paper ballots and electronic media that go with that is the most safe and secure ballot in the country.”

And this.

More than 1,600 ballots in Harris County were not read properly by the county’s new voting machines because of human error, the elections administration office said, resulting in a slower tabulation process for Tuesday’s primaries.

The new system requires voters to take paper ballots with their selections from a voting machine and feed it into a counting machine. Voters did this incorrectly in some cases, said elections office spokeswoman Leah Shah, making the ballots unreadable. Instead, those ballots were re-scanned at the county’s election headquarters, an extra time-consuming step.

Shah said Harris County’s long primary ballot required voters to feed two sheets of paper instead of the usual one, increasing the chance of error if they are inserted the wrong way or inadvertently creased or wrinkled. The 1,629 incorrectly scanned ballots represent less than 1 percent of the nearly 500,000 primary ballots cast.

“These are margins of error that are already accounted for, built in to how we process the ballot,” Shah said. “But we also understand the importance of having the paper trail and having that extra layer of security and backup.”

Voter Sara Cress, who ran the county’s popular elections social media accounts in 2020, said the first page of her ballot became wrinkled in her hand as she filled out the second page. When she attempted to feed the scuffed sheet into the counting machine, it would not take.

“I tried it twice, and then two poll workers tried it over and over again, and it just was giving errors,” Cress said.

[…]

Shah said new requirements under SB1, the voting bill passed by the Legislature last year, placed additional strain on county elections staff. She said 30 percent of the 24,000 mail ballots received have been flagged for rejection because they fail to meet the law’s ID requirements.

Elections staff have been calling those voters, who mostly are over 65, to inform them of the March 7 deadline by which they must provide the correct information or their ballots will not be counted.

The issue with the printers is one reason why the new voting machines were rolled out last year, when they could be tested in a lower-turnout environment. Fewer initial disruptions, but perhaps not enough actual testing to work through all the problems. Going to need a lot more voter education, and more stress testing on those machines. The fiasco with the mail ballots, which is 100% on the Republicans, is putting a lot of pressure on the elections staff. None of this had to happen like this. I mean, if we’re going to talk voter education, not to mention training for county election workers, that was a complete failure on the state’s part. It’s easy to dump on the Secretary of State here, and they do deserve some blame, but they too were put in a no-win spot by the Republicans.

As far as the rest goes, the early voting totals were up at about 7:20 or so on Tuesday night. Initial results came in slowly, as you could tell from my posts yesterday, but almost all of the voting centers had reported by 1 PM yesterday. I do believe there will be some improvement with the printers before November. At least we have two more chances to work out the kinks before then, with the primary runoffs, the May special election, and possibly May special election runoffs. Here’s hoping.

A roundup of runoffs

I was going to just do a basic recap of all the primary races that will require runoffs, and then this happened, and I had to do some redesign.

Rep. Van Taylor

U.S. Rep. Van Taylor, R-Plano, has decided to end his reelection campaign after he was forced into a primary runoff amid 11th-hour allegations of infidelity.

Taylor made the stunning announcement Wednesday, hours after he finished his five-way primary with 49% of the vote, just missing the cutoff for winning the primary outright. The runner-up was former Collin County Judge Keith Self, who is now likely to become the next congressman for the 3rd District.

“About a year ago, I made a horrible mistake that has caused deep hurt and pain among those I love most in this world,” Taylor wrote in an email to supporters. “I had an affair, it was wrong, and it was the greatest failure of my life. I want to apologize for the pain I have caused with my indiscretion, most of all to my wife Anne and our three daughters.”

The day before the primary, the conservative outlet Breitbart News posted a story that Taylor had had a monthslong affair with a Plano woman, Tania Joya, who he had paid $5,000 to keep quiet. The publication reported that she provided it a phone screen shot purporting to be communications with Taylor and a bank record showing that she deposited $5,000 into her account. The Texas Tribune has not been able to independently verify the report.

[…]

Taylor has until March 16 to remove his name from the runoff ballot, which he plans to do, according to a spokesperson. After he does that, Self is automatically the Republican nominee for the district. There is a Democratic nominee for the seat, Sandeep Srivastava, but they face long odds after the district was redrawn last year to favor Republicans.

Holy shit. There’s a link to that article in the Trib story, which I refuse to include. It’s one of the less important aspects of this story, but the timing is curious. Why not publish this earlier, if that’s what you’re going to do, and not take the chance that he could win without a runoff? It gets a whole lot more complicated for the Republicans if he withdraws after winning the primary, and he came quite close to doing just that. I don’t understand any of this.

Anyway, this is where I was originally going to start this post. Here’s a list of the races that have gone into overtime. You can also read the Decision Desk wrapup for some more details.

Statewide Dem

Lite Guv – Mike Collier vs Michelle Beckley.

AG – Rochelle Garza vs Joe Jaworski. As of Wednesday afternoon Jaworski had less than a 2K vote lead over Lee Merritt. When I first looked at this, it was a 3K lead, with all of the remaining ballots in Harris County, where Jaworski started the day with a 6K vote lead over Merritt. That had shrunk to a bit less than 5K votes by the afternoon, which almost made my logic that Jaworski would easily hold his lead look idiotic, but the gap appears to have been too large for Merritt to overcome. But who knows, there may be a bunch of late-fixed mail ballots out there, so let’s put a pin in this one.

Comptroller – Janet Dudding vs Angel Vega.

Land Commissioner – Sandragrace Martinez vs Jay Kleberg.

Congressional Dem

CD01 – JJ Jefferson vs Victor Dunn.

CD15 – Ruben Ramirez vs Michelle Vallejo, who has a 300-vote lead over John Rigney.

CD21 – Claudia Zapata vs Ricardo Villarreal.

CD24 – Jan McDowell vs Derrik Gay, who rebounded after my initial bout of pessimism to finish in second place.

CD28 – Rep. Henry Cuellar vs Jessica Cisneros. Cisneros had a big early lead that was mostly a function of the order in which the counties reported their results. Cisneros crushed it in Bexar County, then watched as Starr, Webb, and Zapata erased her lead. In the end, if what I’m seeing is the actual final tally, it was Cuellar who missed winning outright by nine (!) votes. This one could change to a Cuellar win as the overseas and provisional votes are tallied, and then of course there may be a recount. Hold onto your hats.

CD30 – Jasmine Crockett vs Jane Hope Hamilton.

CD38 – Diana Martinez Alexander vs. Duncan Klussman. This is the only Congressional runoff in Harris County for Dems.

SBOE Dem

SBOE1 – Melissa Ortega vs Laura Marquez. The third-place finisher had big charter school backing, so this race can go back to being one you don’t need to know about.

SBOE2 – Victor Perez vs Pete Garcia.

SBOE4 – Coretta Mallet-Fontenot vs Staci Childs. This is in Harris County, it’s the seat Lawrence Allen vacated in his unsuccessful run for HD26. I’ll put this one on my to do list for runoff interviews.

SBOE11 – Luis Sifuentes vs James Whitfield. Double-timer DC Caldwell finished third, while also losing in the Republican primary for this same seat to incumbent Pat Hardy. Let us never speak of this again.

State Senate Dem

SD27 – Morgan LaMantia vs Sara Stapleton-Barrera.

State House Dems

HD22 – Joseph Trahan vs Christian Hayes.

HD37 – Ruben Cortez vs Luis Villarreal

HD70 – Cassandra Hernandez vs Mihaela Plesa. This one was an almost even split among three candidates, with third place finisher Lorenzo Sanchez 29 votes behind Plesa and 102 votes behind Hernandez. Another overseas/provisional vote count to watch and another recount possibility.

HD76 – Suleman Lalani vs Vanesia Johnson. This is the new Dem-likely seat in Fort Bend.

HD100 – Sandra Crenshaw vs Venton Jones.

HD114 – Alexandra Guio vs John Bryant. Bryant was a Dem Congressman in the 90’s, in the old CD05. After winning a squeaker against Pete Sessions in 1994, Bryant tried his luck in the primary for Senate in 1996, eventually losing in a runoff to Victor Morales. Bryant just turned 75 (why anyone would want to get back into the Lege at that age boggles my mind, but maybe that’s just me), while Guio is quite a bit younger. Should be an interesting matchup. This was a five-way race with everyone getting between 17 and 25 percent, so endorsements from the ousted candidates may make a difference.

HD147 – Jolanda Jones vs Danielle Bess.

Harris County Dems

185th Criminal District Court – Andrea Beall vs Judge Jason Luong.

208th Criminal District Court – Beverly Armstrong vs Kim McTorry. Judge Greg Glass finished third.

312th Family District Court – Teresa Waldrop vs Judge Chip Wells.

County Civil Court at Law #4 – Manpreet Monica Singh vs Treasea Treviño. David Patronella was in second place after early voting, but fell behind as the Tuesday votes came in.

Commissioners Court, Precinct 4 – Lesley Briones vs Ben Chou.

Justice of the Peace, Precinct 1, Place 2 – Sonia Lopez vs Steve Duble.

Republicans

Not really interested in a complete rundown, but it’s Paxton versus P Bush for AG, Dawn Buckingham versus Tim Westley for Land Commissioner, and Wayne Christian versus Sarah Stogner for Railroad Commissioner. At least that last one will be interesting.

As noted yesterday, it will be Alexandra Mealer versus Vidal Martinez for the nomination for County Judge. I have no feelings about this.

I will put some other primary news and notes in a separate post. Let me know if I missed a race.

2022 primary results: Harris County

There were some issues, as there always are. Honestly, that’s one of the reasons I vote early – less time pressure in case something happens. There was also an issue with reporting the early ballots.

The Harris County Elections Administration has requested an extension on the 24-hour deadline to report the results of Tuesday’s primary elections, according to Texas Secretary of State John Scott.

State law requires that counties report results from both early voting and Election Day within 24 hours of the polls closing. Just after polls closed at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Scott’s office said that they were informed by Harris County election officials that the county would not be able to count and report the results.

“Harris County election officials have indicated to our office that the delay in ballot tabulation is due only to damaged ballot sheets that must be duplicated before they can be scanned by ballot tabulators at the central count location,” Scott said in a statement.

Failing to meet the deadline is a Class B misdemeanor, Scott’s office said.

“Our office stands ready to assist Harris County election officials, and all county election officials throughout the state, in complying with Texas Election Code requirements for accurately tabulating and reporting Primary Election results,” Scott said.

Don’t know what happened there, but I get a PDF of the results in my inbox every time they get posted to the web, and the first one arrived at 7:25, so whatever the delay was it didn’t take that long to fix it. Other places had their issues as well, often because of missing election judges. And I can’t wait to see how long it takes Potter County to finish its count.

County Judge Lina Hidalgo was headed for an easy win in her primary; she was at almost 70% of the vote in early voting. Erica Davis was just shy of 15%. Alexandra Mealer and Vidal Martinez were the two top Republicans. Marilyn Burgess was winning for District Clerk, but Carla Wyatt had a nearly identical lead for Treasurer over incumbent Dylan Osborne. You just can’t tell with these things sometimes.

Commissioner Adrian Garcia was also on the way to an easy win in Precinct 2, while Lesley Briones and Ben Chou were leading in Precinct 4. Jack Morman and Jerry Mouton were the top two for Precinct 2 on the Republican side.

Multiple District Court judges were losing their primaries. The ones who were leading included Hilary Unger, Chris Morton, Dedra Davis, Natalia Oakes, Leah Shapiro, and Frank Aguilar, the latter two by smaller margins that could vanish overnight. Amy Martin was trailing Melissa Morris by a small margin as well. Jason Luong was in second place and headed to a runoff against Andrea Beall, Chip Wells was in a similar position against Teresa Waldrop, while Greg Glass and Scott Dollinger were out of the running, with Glass’ opponents in a runoff and Tami Craft leading the field in Dollinger’s race. Veronica Nelson was above 50% in the three-way race for the new 482nd Criminal District Court.

The County Court judges were doing a bit better, with four out of seven leading their races. For the open benches, Juanita Jackson won in Criminal Court #10, Porscha Brown was above 50% for Criminal Court #3, and Monica Singh was leading for Civil Court #4, with second place too close to call between David Patronella and Treasea Treviño.

For the JP races, Sonia Lopez was leading in Precinct 1, with Steve Duble slightly ahead of Chris Watson for second place. Dolores Lozano won in Precinct 2, incumbent Lucia Bates was over 50% in Precinct 3. Roderick Rogers was winning in Precinct 5 and Angela Rodriguez was winning in Precinct 6.

That’s all I’ve got, with results trickling in. I’ll follow up tomorrow.

UPDATE: We’re going to be waiting for results for the rest of the day due to issues with the paper receipts and the printers.

The only constant is change

This DMN story is about the wave of changes to the various legislative caucuses in North Dallas, but if you pull the lens back just a little, you can see how universal it is.

Proponents of term limits complain that elected lawmakers often overstay their welcome.

That’s not the case these days in the Texas House, where turnover is occurring across the state. In North Texas, the 2022 elections could bring an array of new faces to the House and Senate.

When the Legislature convenes in 2023, there will be eight new members of the House. And a new senator will replace the retiring Jane Nelson of Denton County. Statewide, 28 House lawmakers have retired or left their seats to run or another office. Five senators are not running for reelection, including several moderate Republicans, including Kel Seliger of Amarillo and Larry Taylor of Friendswood.

The story goes on to list the folks from the Metroplex – mostly Dallas, Tarrant, Collin, and Denton counties – who are retiring or running for another office in 2022, and it’s a long list. But as we’ve discussed, there’s always a fair amount of turnover following a redistricting year, and there’s a lot more natural turnover in elected office than you might think.

My case in point: Here’s your list of federal and state election winners in 2012 from Harris County. Following the 2022 election, this is how many new names there will be:

– Six of nine members of Congress are gone, with only Reps. Al Green, Mike McCaul, and Sheila Jackson Lee remaining.
– All three SBOE members will be gone, as Lawrence Allen is running for HD26 this March.
– At least six out of eight members of the State Senate will be gone, with only Sens. Whitmire and Huffman still on the ballot. To be sure, two of those people are now statewide office holders, and one is on Commissioners Court, but this is about turnover. All three of their seats are now held by someone else.
– At least sixteen of the 24 State House members will be gone. Only Reps. Alma Allen, Gene Wu, Armando Walle, Senfronia Thompson, Harold Dutton, Ana Hernandez, Mary Ann Perez, and Hubert Vo are on the ballot.

If you want to take it one step further, note that four out of five members of Commissioners Court are gone, with the fifth (Jack Cagle) likely to be voted out this November. All holders of executive office, all members of the HCDE Board of Trustees, and nearly every District Court judge is new since then as well.

To be sure, some of the holdovers have been there for a long time. My point is that they’re a pretty rare exception, and that the norm is for most legislators to serve a couple of terms and then either lose an election or move on to something else, which may be another political office and may be something outside of electoral politics. This is one of the many reasons why I disdain term limits. Our very real lived experience shows that they are not necessary.

The flip side of this, as a companion story notes, is that turnover means that a fair amount of legislative and subject matters knowledge goes away when a veteran lawmaker moves on, voluntarily or otherwise. But that’s life, and as someone who has been in the corporate world for a couple of decades, I can tell you that the world will keep spinning. New people will get their chance, and generally speaking they’ll be fine, even if they do things differently.

Now if you want to complain that the kind of Republicans being elected these days in place of the Jane Nelsons and Larry Taylors and Kel Seligers and so forth are a couple of notches below them in terms of knowledge, seriousness, deportment, and a whole host of other qualities, you’ll get no argument from me. That’s a different problem, and it’s going to take both the election of more Democrats and a return to something approaching sanity and respect for democracy among Republicans as a whole to solve it.

Final roundup of interviews and judicial Q&As

Here they all are. As noted, I may return to some races for the runoff. For now, this is what we have. As a reminder, much more information about Democratic primary candidates, including links to the interviews and judicial Q&As, can be found on Erik Manning’s spreadsheet. Vote well.

Interviews

Duncan Klussman, CD38
Diana Martinez Alexander, CD38

Jinny Suh, Land Commissioner
Jay Kleberg, Land Commissioner

Sen. John Whitmire, SD15
Molly Cook, SD15

Aurelia Wagner, HD147
Danielle Bess, HD147
Jolanda Jones, HD147
Nam Subramanian, HD147
Reagan Flowers, HD147

Candis Houston, HD142
Chase West, HD132

Ben Chou, Harris County Commissioners Court Precinct 4
Ann Williams, Harris County Commissioners Court Precinct 4
Gina Calanni, Harris County Commissioners Court Precinct 4
Lesley Briones, Harris County Commissioners Court Precinct 4
Clarence Miller, Harris County Commissioners Court Precinct 4

Dylan Osborne, Harris County Treasurer (Incumbent)
Carla Wyatt, Harris County Treasurer
Marilyn Burgess, Harris County District Clerk (Incumbent)
Desiree Broadnax, Harris County District Clerk

Judicial Q&As

Kyle Carter, 14th Court of Appeals, Place 2
Cheri Thomas, 14th Court of Appeals, Place 2

Judge Chuck Silverman, 183rd Criminal District Court
Judge Abigail Anastasio, 184th Criminal District Court
Katherine Thomas, 184th Criminal District Court
Judge Jason Luong, 184th Criminal District Court
Andrea Beall, 185th Criminal District Court
Lema Barazi, 189th Civil District Court
Judge Scott Dollinger, 189th Civil District Court
Judge Greg Glass, 208th Criminal District Court
Kim McTorry, 208th Criminal District Court
Samuel Milledge, 228th Criminal District Court
Judge Chris Morton, 230th Criminal District Court
Judge Tristan Longino, 245th Family District Court
Angela Lancelin, 245th Family District Court
Judge Hilary Unger, 248th Criminal District Court
Judge Amy Martin, 263rd Criminal District Court
Dianne Curvey, 280th Family District Court
Judge Barbara Stalder, 280th Family District Court
Judge Chip Wells, 312th Family District Court
Teresa Waldrop, 312th Family District Court
Paul Calzada, 312th Family District Court
Judge Natalia Oakes, 313th Family District Court
Glenda Duru, 313th Family District Court
Judge Leah Shapiro, 313th Family District Court
Ieshia Champs, 315th Family District Court
Alycia Harvey, 482nd Criminal District Court
Veronica Monique Nelson, 482nd Criminal District Court

David Patronella, County Civil Court At Law #4
Manpreet Monica Singh, County Civil Court At Law #4
Treasea Treviño, County Civil Court At Law #4
Porscha Natasha Brown, County Criminal Court At Law #3
Judge Kelley Andrews, County Criminal Court At Law #6
Judge Andrew Wright, County Criminal Court At Law #7
Erika Ramirez, County Criminal Court At Law #8
Judge David Singer, County Criminal Court At Law #14
Judge Michael Newman, County Probate Court #2

Chris Watson, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 1 Place 2
Steve Duble, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 1 Place 2
Ron Campana, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 1 Place 2
Blair McClure, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 2 Place 2
Dolores Lozano, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 2 Place 2
Judge Lucia Bates, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 3 Place 2
Herbert Alexander Sanchez, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 3 Place 2
Ashleigh Roberson, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 3 Place 2

UPDATE: Naturally, I woke up this morning to see another set of Q&A responses in my inbox. They will run tomorrow.

Endorsement watch: Commissioners Court and Treasurer

The Chron makes another obvious call and endorses Commissioner Adrian Garcia in Precinct 2.

Adrian Garcia

Among the frequent criticisms we hear about Harris County Commissioners Court is that it’s an opaque repository for political insiders, an entity with limited authority beyond building and maintaining roads, shepherding flood control projects, and rubber-stamping budgets.

When Democrat Adrian Garcia challenged Republican incumbent Jack Morman in 2018 for Precinct 2 commissioner, he set out to break that mold. Garcia, 61, a former Houston police officer, city councilman and Harris County sheriff ran as an advocate for criminal justice reform, environmental justice, and for people without health insurance. He pledged to direct resources to long-neglected neighborhoods in his district, which spans eastern Harris County, North Houston and leafy suburbs such as Friendswood.

As commissioner, Garcia has fulfilled many of those promises and deserves a chance to defend his seat this fall against Morman, who wants it back.

While Republican county commissioners attempt to undo the county’s existing misdemeanor bail reform agreement, Garcia has been a steadfast advocate of staying the course on bail reform since signing on to a consent decree to settle the Harris County litigation in 2019. In a precinct where some county residents are 56 percent more likely to be diagnosed with cancer, Garcia secured funding for air quality monitors. Garcia partnered with the Baylor College of Medicine to bring SmartPods — a one-stop shop for health care services, including clinic spaces, pharmacies and biosafety labs — to medically under-served residents in Pasadena and Aldine. He was the driving force behind bringing a $7.6 million park to Northeast Harris County for children and adults with disabilities, an all-inclusive jewel for an area desperate for green space.

“I have been working tirelessly on all fronts to address all the things that I campaigned on and that my constituents have focused on,” Garcia told the editorial board.

I advocated for Garcia to be the Democratic challenger to Morman in 2018, and I have been happy with him in office. The Chron gripes about a couple of things, including his support of the new map for Commissioners Court, to which I say that setting a good example has gotten Democrats exactly nothing these past few years. If the Republicans in the Legislature and the US Senate want to do something about redistricting, we’re all ears. Until then, I see no point in unilaterally disarming. If I were in Precinct 2, I’d be delighted to cast my vote for Commissioner Garcia. I did not do interviews in this race, but I did interview him in 2018, and you can listen to that here.

Over in Precinct 4, it was a much tougher choice, for which the Chron landed on Lesley Briones.

Lesley Briones

The Democrats running for Harris County Precinct 4 commissioner make a far stronger field than in previous years. And there’s a reason for that: The Democratic majority on the current Commissioners Court significantly altered the precinct and gave it more blue voters, to the potential detriment of incumbent Republican Jack Cagle.

Democrats in the new Precinct 4 — which encompasses much of western Harris County and some territory inside Loop 610 — have a tough choice in a race that’s drawn several impressive candidates.

We settled on Harris County Court at Law Judge Lesley Briones, 41.

The Laredo native graduated from Yale Law School, and then practiced law at Vinson & Elkins LLP before working as general counsel and chief operating officer of the Arnold Foundation. Beginning in 2019, Briones served as a civil court judge before resigning to run for commissioner.

She’s been endorsed by several local elected officials and several groups including the Texas Gulf Coast AFL-CIO and Harris County Young Democrats, and has raised more than $339,000.

Among her ideas, Briones said she’d create a response team that residents could call for ditch maintenance, similar to programs set up for potholes. She’d prioritize constituent services and bird-dog already-funded flood bond projects to make sure they get completed.

[…]

Along with Briones, two other candidates stood out: former Texas Rep. Gina Calanni and Ben Chou. All three offered concise, detailed platforms and plans.

Calanni, 48, is a battle-tested former representative in House District 132. We endorsed her in 2018 and again in 2020. She’s an accomplished legislator, despite only serving one term: she authored or co-authored 11 bills that became law in the 2019 session. She rejected the notion that Commissioners Court ought to stick to the basics such as transportation and flooding, suggesting she’d continue the current practice of Democrats on the court of delving into divisive social issues such as abortion.

On healthcare, Calanni has an intriguing incentive plan for mothers on Medicaid, and we liked her pledge to to hold regular town halls in all the precinct’s neighborhoods.

Other priorities she mentioned, such as combating the school-to-prison pipeline, are important issues, but this is a time for anti-crime initiatives that can show more immediate results.

Ben Chou, 31, graduated from Rice and then worked for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley. A former Harris County clerk employee, he touted an instrumental role in the now-banned drive-thru voting program that contributed to record turnout. Chou is sharp and knowledgable. He said he’ll guarantee fixes within 72 hours on reports of road debris and potholes and commits to attend or have a staff member at every super neighborhood meeting in the precinct.

Most impressive was his commitment to ethics. He was the only candidate to pledge not to take financial contributions from county vendors, as all four of the current commissioners do. “Disclosure, I think, is not enough. We’ve got to end the pay-to-play culture in Harris County,” he said. We agree.

I interviewed five of the seven Dems running in this race:

Lesley Briones
Ben Chou
Ann Williams
Gina Calanni
Clarence Miller

The first four listed there are the top candidates in my view, and I don’t envy anyone the decision. We’ll see who makes it to the runoff.

Finally the Chron endorsed incumbent Treasurer Dylan Osborne.

Dylan Osborne

The job of county treasurer is a bit like being a sports official in one respect: they’re usually invisible unless they mess up.

The treasurer’s basic duties are to cut checks for the county, balance its checkbook and account for funds in designated accounts. The office moved about $20 billion in 2021. Incumbent Dylan Osborne has tried since 2018 to increase the 12-person office’s visibility — without any big mistakes. He participated in the November 2020 Protect the Results rally, making the shouldn’t-be-controversial argument that vote counting and transfers of power needn’t be partisan. He also led the office to partner with Unity National Bank, one of the few Black-owned financial institutions in Texas.

He wants to work with some local schools to build programs for financial literacy training, and pitch to Harris County Commissioners Court a plan to help residents combat financial struggles.

“I run an efficient, tight ship, and we’re working hard to make this office an asset to the community,” Osborne told us.

My interview with Dylan Osborne is here and with his opponent Carla Wyatt, about whom the Chron was complimentary, is here. The Treasurer’s office doesn’t get in the news much, and that was one of the things I asked him about – basically, what have you been doing all this time? He had some good answers, so give that a listen if you haven’t. I agree with the Chron’s assessment that while Wyatt would make a fine Treasurer, Osborne has done a good job and has earned the chance to do it for another term.

Here comes that AstroWorld task force

Got to admit, I had thought this had already happened.

Three months after 10 people were killed at the Astroworld Festival at NRG Park, Houston and Harris County have named a 10-person task force to review procedures, permitting and guidelines for special events in the region.

The task force, made up mostly of city and county officials, will seek changes to ensure the city and county collaborate better on events that draw large crowds. The group plans to meet monthly, but members said Wednesday they do not know when they will release recommendations.

The officials left Astroworld unmentioned in their initial remarks, but later acknowledged the concert tragedy directly inspired the task force’s formation. Still, they insisted the group would look forward, not backward at any one event, and would not spend considerable time trying to determine what went wrong at the concert festival.

“I think anyone of us would be dishonest if we say it didn’t precipitate it. Certainly, it did,” Mayor Sylvester Turner said, adding later: “This task force is going to be futuristic. The investigation into the Astroworld event continues, so we certainly do not want to impede in that investigation.”

[…]

The task force will be chaired by Susan Christian, the director of the mayor’s office of special events, and Perrye K. Turner, Sr., the deputy county administrator and the former FBI special agent in charge of the Houston division.

It will also include Houston Police Chief Troy Finner, Fire Chief Sam Peña, and Harris County Fire Marshal Laurie Christensen, as well as Steven Adelman, vice president of Event Safety Alliance; Rob McKinley, president of LD Systems, a production services company; Major Rolf Nelson of the Harris County Sheriff’s Office; Ryan Walsh, executive director of the Harris County Sports & Convention Corp; and Mike DeMarco, chief show operations officer for the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo.

As noted in the story, Commissioners Court decided against launching an independent investigation into the disaster, opting instead to let the law enforcement investigations do that work and to conduct an internal review. It’s not totally clear to me if this task force is the fulfillment of that “internal review” item, but I suspect it is as there’s no other mention of it that I can find, in this story or via Chronicle archive search. The task force, which was put together by Mayor Turner and Commissioner Adrian Garcia, looks fine, it’s just a matter of what their scope is and when they intend to produce a report. We’ll see.

It’s not like there aren’t a bunch of other things going on that will tell us more about the tragedy and things we could or should have done differently. In addition to the law enforcement investigation and all of the lawsuits, which should produce a lot of info when and if they get to the discovery phase, there’s also a Congressional probe and an FBI website seeking input from witnesses. This task force has a different and more focused mission, and if they do their job well it should produce something worthwhile. We’ll know soon enough.

Does Houston get its fair share from Harris County?

It’s complicated.

Do property taxpayers inside the City of Houston subsidize Harris County services? It’s a question that comes up a lot, given the fact that city residents—like their counterparts in the county—pay separate property taxes to the county, but the county provides many services only to the unincorporated areas.

The answer to that question appears to be yes: property taxes paid to the county by those inside the city do subsidize services out in the county—at least so far as general county services are concerned. (On the hospital front, city residents appear to receive more in services than they pay in taxes to the county.)

The overall picture might look different; for example, residents outside the city make many purchases inside the city, and the resulting sales tax goes to the city, not the county. But at least according to a new analysis from the Kinder Institute, with the assistance of the fiscal analysis firm TischlerBise, the county gets more in property tax revenue from city taxpayers than it provides in services.

[…]

Although much of the unincorporated area is served by municipal utility districts, the county government is responsible for providing many services, such as law enforcement and road maintenance, that are typically provided by cities. For this reason, the question of whether city taxpayers subsidize services outside the city has long been debated. At the same time, it should be noted that the county provides many services, such as justice administration and hospital care, to all residents of the county no matter where they live.

The Harris County government collects and spends about $2 billion per year in property tax revenue. The Harris County Hospital District collects and spends about $700 million per year in property tax revenue. A little more than half of the county’s property tax comes from inside the city.

But the amount of money that the county spends on services to city residents varies. For example, we estimate that almost 60% of all county flood control expenditures benefit the city. At the same time, however, almost 90% of county road and bridges expenditures occur outside the city limits.

I have definitely complained in this space about all of the roadbuilding in empty parts of the county as the primary development planning strategy. It’s worked in that the county’s population has boomed, but it has also led to the paving over of a lot of prairie land that had been a key component of flood control, and it has had the feel of leaving the inner core behind to fend for itself. I have felt that a little less in recent years, as the county has kicked in on various city road and bike projects, as well as contributing to Metro for bus shelters and other repairs. I give Commissioner Rodney Ellis a lot of the credit for that. I’d still like to see more done, but at least the disparity is not as glaring.

As this article points out, there are county services that provide a lot of benefit to Houston, and services that are widely used by everyone, so the picture is more nuanced than I might have given it credit in the past. The city also benefits from sales taxes from people who work in the city or travel into the city for business and entertainment. The cited study did not go into that aspect of the finances, though they say more study will be forthcoming. I’m just glad to see this issue get some attention.

Interviews and judicial Q&As through February 4

Updating from last week. This is to put all of the interviews and judicial Q&As in a single post for your convenience, in case you missed something. This past week was CD38 plus Candis Houston in HD142 and Chase West in HD132. Next up, for the final week of interviews, will be two Land Commissioner candidates, Jinny Suh and Jay Kleberg. After that, I still have several Q&As and will run them till I run out. As noted before, I will likely do some more interviews for the runoffs.

Here’s the interview list so far, followed by the judicial Q&As. As a reminder, much more information about Democratic primary candidates, including links to the interviews and judicial Q&As, can be found on Erik Manning’s spreadsheet. Thanks to CityCast Houston for the recent shoutout in the newsletter and on the podcast. Let me know if you have any questions.

Interviews

Aurelia Wagner, HD147
Danielle Bess, HD147
Jolanda Jones, HD147
Nam Subramanian, HD147
Reagan Flowers, HD147

Ben Chou, Harris County Commissioners Court Precinct 4
Ann Williams, Harris County Commissioners Court Precinct 4
Gina Calanni, Harris County Commissioners Court Precinct 4
Lesley Briones, Harris County Commissioners Court Precinct 4
Clarence Miller, Harris County Commissioners Court Precinct 4

Dylan Osborne, Harris County Treasurer (Incumbent)
Carla Wyatt, Harris County Treasurer
Marilyn Burgess, Harris County District Clerk (Incumbent)
Desiree Broadnax, Harris County District Clerk

Sen. John Whitmire, SD15
Molly Cook, SD15

Duncan Klussman, CD38
Diana Martinez Alexander, CD38

Candis Houston, HD142
Chase West, HD132

Judicial Q&As

Kyle Carter, 14th Court of Appeals, Place 2

Judge Chuck Silverman, 183rd Criminal District Court
Judge Abigail Anastasio, 184th Criminal District Court
Lema Barazi, 189th Civil District Court
Judge Scott Dollinger, 189th Civil District Court
Judge Greg Glass, 208th Criminal District Court
Samuel Milledge, 228th Criminal District Court
Judge Chris Morton, 230th Criminal District Court
Judge Tristan Longino, 245th Family District Court
Angela Lancelin, 245th Family District Court
Judge Hilary Unger, 248th Criminal District Court
Dianne Curvey, 280th Family District Court
Judge Barbara Stalder, 280th Family District Court
Judge Chip Wells, 312th Family District Court
Teresa Waldrop, 312th Family District Court
Judge Natalia Oakes, 313th Family District Court
Glenda Duru, 313th Family District Court
Alycia Harvey, 482nd Criminal District Court

David Patronella, County Civil Court At Law #4
Porscha Natasha Brown, County Criminal Court At Law #3
Judge Kelley Andrews, County Criminal Court At Law #6
Judge Andrew Wright, County Criminal Court At Law #7
Erika Ramirez, County Criminal Court At Law #8
Judge David Singer, County Criminal Court At Law #14
Judge Michael Newman, County Probate Court #2

Chris Watson, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 1 Place 2
Blair McClure, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 2 Place 2
Judge Lucia Bates, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 3 Place 2
Herbert Alexander Sanchez, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 3 Place 2
Ashleigh Roberson, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 3 Place 2

Interviews and judicial Q&As through January 28

Updating from last week. This is to put all of the interviews and judicial Q&As in a single post for your convenience, in case you missed something. This past week was Senate District 15. This coming week will be CD38 plus the long-awaited Candis Houston in HD142 and Chase West in HD132, with two Land Commissioner interviews for after that. After that, probably just whatever remaining judicial Q&As there are. Why? Because the week after next is when early voting starts, and at this point I don’t have the time to try to schedule more interviews.

Here’s the interview list so far, followed by the judicial Q&As. As a reminder, much more information about Democratic primary candidates, including links to the interviews and judicial Q&As, can be found on Erik Manning’s spreadsheet. Let me know if you have any questions.

Interviews

Aurelia Wagner, HD147
Danielle Bess, HD147
Jolanda Jones, HD147
Nam Subramanian, HD147
Reagan Flowers, HD147

Ben Chou, Harris County Commissioners Court Precinct 4
Ann Williams, Harris County Commissioners Court Precinct 4
Gina Calanni, Harris County Commissioners Court Precinct 4
Lesley Briones, Harris County Commissioners Court Precinct 4
Clarence Miller, Harris County Commissioners Court Precinct 4

Dylan Osborne, Harris County Treasurer (Incumbent)
Carla Wyatt, Harris County Treasurer
Marilyn Burgess, Harris County District Clerk (Incumbent)
Desiree Broadnax, Harris County District Clerk

Sen. John Whitmire, SD15
Molly Cook, SD15

Judicial Q&As

Judge Chuck Silverman, 183rd Criminal District Court
Judge Abigail Anastasio, 184th Criminal District Court
Lema Barazi, 189th Civil District Court
Judge Scott Dollinger, 189th Civil District Court
Judge Greg Glass, 208th Criminal District Court
Judge Chris Morton, 230th Criminal District Court
Judge Tristan Longino, 245th Family District Court
Angela Lancelin, 245th Family District Court
Judge Hilary Unger, 248th Criminal District Court
Dianne Curvey, 280th Family District Court
Judge Chip Wells, 312th Family District Court
Teresa Waldrop, 312th Family District Court
Judge Natalia Oakes, 313th Family District Court
Glenda Duru, 313th Family District Court
Alycia Harvey, 482nd Criminal District Court

David Patronella, County Civil Court At Law #4
Porscha Natasha Brown, County Criminal Court At Law #3
Judge Kelley Andrews, County Criminal Court At Law #6
Judge Andrew Wright, County Criminal Court At Law #7
Judge Michael Newman, County Probate Court #2

Chris Watson, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 1 Place 2
Blair McClure, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 2 Place 2
Judge Lucia Bates, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 3 Place 2
Herbert Alexander Sanchez, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 3 Place 2
Ashleigh Roberson, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 3 Place 2

Supreme Court to hear whether state redistricting lawsuit can proceed

Here’s the update I’ve been waiting for. Not what I was hoping for, but it is what it is.

The state’s bid to toss a legal challenge arguing last year’s GOP-led redistricting effort violated the Texas Constitution is headed to the state Supreme Court, which accepted the case Friday.

The all-Republican Supreme Court set oral arguments on March 23, well after the March 1 primary election.

The Legislature’s GOP mapmakers last fall approved new political lines that could cement Republicans’ grip on power for the next decade and blunt the voting strength of nonwhite voters who fueled Texas’ population surge.

As federal lawsuits over the new maps pile up, some Democrats are focusing on fights in state court. In two combined cases, a group of mostly Democratic, Latino lawmakers from both chambers challenged the constitutionality of when and how Republicans drew the boundaries.

After two days of oral arguments in December, a three-judge state district court ruled against temporarily blocking the new legislative maps, but set a trial for January. Texas then appealed the court’s denial of its motions to dismiss the case, putting the trial on hold.

The lawmakers’ attorneys said they don’t seek to overturn the maps for the 2022 election cycle but argued for expedited resolution of the appeal “to allow sufficient time for the parties to litigate the merits before the 2023 legislative session.”

“For decades, MALC has defended the freedom to vote and equal access to the ballot box. We are not surprised that (Texas Attorney General) Ken Paxton would attempt to undermine our members and the millions of Texas voices they represent,” said state Rep. Rafael Anchia, chair of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, one of the challengers against the maps.

[…]

The consolidated case was assigned to a special three-judge panel of Democrat Karin Crump and Republicans Emily Miskel and Ken Wise. If the state Supreme Court affirms the lower court’s decision, “the parties need sufficient time to return to the special three-judge district court, obtain a final judgment, and complete any appeal from that judgment,” the challengers said in a filing.

See here for the previous update. I’ve been scouring the news for the past two weeks because I knew that proposed trial date was coming up. I had not seen an item about the state’s appeal, so the lack of news about the trial was confusing to me – was this really not being covered, or was there a delay of some kind. Turns out it was the latter. Maybe if I’d spent more time on Twitter I might have seen something to that effect, but too much time on Twitter is its own hazard. Point is, this litigation will not derail the March primaries. Like the litigation over Harris County Commissioners Court redistricting, it may eventually end with a ruling that will force a change to the new maps, but it cannot and will not affect this election.

Anyway, so SCOTx will decide whether to toss the two combined lawsuits or to allow the trial to proceed. Hopefully they will do this in a timely manner, so that we might have a resolution in time for the 2023 legislature to address any remaining questions. Which, let’s be clear, could be a double-edged sword, though at least on the county line question it’s more likely to be good for Democrats if the plaintiffs win and the districts in Cameron County need to be redrawn. And speaking of timing, SCOTx accepted this appeal on the same day that they also accepted the SB8 litigation from the Fifth Circuit. Thanks, I hate it.

One more thing, on a side note:

That’s the Sen. Powell lawsuit. So there is still one thing that could throw a kink into the March primaries. I’ll keep an eye on that.

Interviews and judicial Q&As through January 21

Updating from last week and the week before. This is to put all of the interviews and judicial Q&As in a single post for your convenience, in case you missed something. This past week was the County Treasurer and District Clerk races. Next week will be Senate District 15 – I’ve tried to get something on the schedule with Candis Houston from HD142 but so far no luck. If it happens later, I’ll publish it later. The week after that will be CD38, and I’ve done a couple of Land Commissioner interviews for after that.

Here’s the interview list so far, followed by the judicial Q&As. As a reminder, much more information about Democratic primary candidates, including links to the interviews and judicial Q&As, can be found on Erik Manning’s spreadsheet. Let me know if you have any questions.

Interviews

Aurelia Wagner, HD147
Danielle Bess, HD147
Jolanda Jones, HD147
Nam Subramanian, HD147
Reagan Flowers, HD147

Ben Chou, Harris County Commissioners Court Precinct 4
Ann Williams, Harris County Commissioners Court Precinct 4
Gina Calanni, Harris County Commissioners Court Precinct 4
Lesley Briones, Harris County Commissioners Court Precinct 4
Clarence Miller, Harris County Commissioners Court Precinct 4

Dylan Osborne, Harris County Treasurer (Incumbent)
Carla Wyatt, Harris County Treasurer
Marilyn Burgess, Harris County District Clerk (Incumbent)
Desiree Broadnax, Harris County District Clerk

Judicial Q&As

Judge Abigail Anastasio, 184th Criminal District Court
Lema Barazi, 189th Civil District Court
Judge Scott Dollinger, 189th Civil District Court
Judge Greg Glass, 208th Criminal District Court
Judge Chris Morton, 230th Criminal District Court
Judge Tristan Longino, 245th Family District Court
Judge Hilary Unger, 248th Criminal District Court
Judge Chip Wells, 312th Family District Court
Teresa Waldrop, 312th Family District Court
Judge Natalia Oakes, 313th Family District Court
Glenda Duru, 313th Family District Court

David Patronella, County Civil Court At Law #4
Porscha Natasha Brown, County Criminal Court At Law #3
Judge Kelley Andrews, County Criminal Court At Law #6
Judge Andrew Wright, County Criminal Court At Law #7
Judge Michael Newman, County Probate Court #2

Chris Watson, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 1 Place 2
Blair McClure, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 2 Place 2
Judge Lucia Bates, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 3 Place 2
Herbert Alexander Sanchez, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 3 Place 2

January 2022 campaign finance reports: Harris County

You know what January means around these parts. There’s lots of action in Harris County, so that’s where we’ll begin. Here’s my summary of the July 2021 reports as a reminder. Let’s dive in.

Lina Hidalgo, County Judge
Ahmed Hassan, County Judge
Georgia Provost, County Judge
Erica Davis, County Judge
Kevin Howard, County Judge
Maria Garcia, County Judge

Martina Lemon Dixon, County Judge
Robert Dorris, County Judge
Randall Kubosh, County Judge
Naoufal Houjami, County Judge
Hector Bolanos, County Judge
Oscar Gonzales, County Judge
Alexandra Mealer, County Judge
Vidal Martinez, County Judge
Warren Howell, County Judge
George Zoes, County Judge

Rodney Ellis, County Commissioner, Precinct 1

Adrian Garcia, County Commissioner, Precinct 2
George Risner, County Commissioner, Precinct 2
Gary Harrison, County Commissioner, Precinct 2
John Manlove, County Commissioner, Precinct 2
Jerry Mouton, County Commissioner, Precinct 2
Jack Morman, County Commissioner, Precinct 2
Daniel Jason, County Commissioner, Precinct 2
Richard Vega, County Commissioner, Precinct 2

Tom Ramsey, County Commissioner, Precinct 3

Jack Cagle (SPAC), County Commissioner, Precinct 4
Ben Chou, County Commissioner, Precinct 4
Ann Williams, County Commissioner, Precinct 4
Clarence Miller, County Commissioner, Precinct 4
Lesley Briones, County Commissioner, Precinct 4
Gina Calanni, County Commissioner, Precinct 4
Jeff Stauber, County Commissioner, Precinct 4

Teneshia Hudspeth, County Clerk
Stan Stanart, County Clerk

Marilyn Burgess, District Clerk
Desiree Broadnax, District Clerk
Chris Daniel (SPAC), District Clerk

Dylan Osborne, County Treasurer
Carla Wyatt, County Treasurer
Kyle Scott, County Treasurer
Eric Dick, County Treasurer
Stephen Kusner, County Treasurer


Name             Raised      Spent    Loans    On Hand
======================================================
Hidalgo         900,323    424,448    1,400  1,488,652
Hassan              200      2,461        0          0
Davis            50,114     10,143   21,852     59,970
Howard
Provost
Garcia, M

Lemond Dixon    196,977    109,175        0     90,294
Dorris                0         68        0         68
Kubosh           15,075      9,051   60,000      7,165
Houjami           1,390        592        0        147
Bolanos               0          0        0          0
Gonzales          2,475      3,432      500          0
Mealer           60,049     15,464        0     15,840
Martinez        514,585     86,782  100,000    516,134
Howell            1,450      7,075        0        375
Zoes

Ellis           264,000    181,904        0  4,192,308

Garcia, A       587,885    364,783        0  2,119,825
Risner            3,250      1,899        0     51,550
Harrison              5      2,191        0          0
Manlove          19,452      4,285        0     68,870
Mouton           29,100      2,916        0     26,283
Morman           45,749     66,119        0    165,834
Jason
Vega

Ramsey          236,900    185,263        0    581,035

Cagle           285,673    501,923        0  1,119,432
Chou             80,590      4,133        0     77,490
Williams          2,600      1,250    1,250      1,450
Miller            5,293     10,560        0     10,336
Briones         244,974     60,571        0    229,258
Calanni           5,540          0        0      5,540
Stauber               0      1,250        0          0

Hudspeth         26,464     10,395        0     19,376
Stanart               0      3,054        0      8,053
Burgess          24,169     26,475        0     17,222
Broadnax          9,649      9,538        0        110
Daniel           11,875      1,393   25,000     12,264
Osborne           2,440        622        0      2,202
Scott             7,900     20,489   14,000      1,410
Dick                  0      1,489        0          0
Kusner              

If you don’t see a linked report for someone, it’s because there wasn’t one I could find on the harrisvotes.com page. The information I have here is current as of last night. It’s possible someone could still file a report, these things do happen, but I wouldn’t expect much from anyone who hasn’t by now.

There are items of greater substance to discuss, but I can’t help myself: Naoufal Houjami was a candidate for Mayor in 2019 – if you don’t remember him, it’s probably because he got a total of 565 votes, for 0.2%, finishing last in the field. He has filed a finance report as a candidate for Harris County Judge, but he is not listed as a candidate for either primary, according to the Secretary of State’s Qualified Candidates page. (The Harris County GOP candidates page doesn’t have him, either.) The first two pictures I saw on his webpage were one with him and Greg Abbott, and one with him and Sheila Jackson Lee. Go figure. He is fully supporting his friend George P. Bush for Attorney General, so you make the call. This is way more than you ever needed to know about Naoufal Houjami.

Anyway. Barring an unlikely late and lucrative report from Georgia Provost, who wasn’t much of a fundraiser as a City Council candidate, incumbent Judge Lina Hidalgo outraised all of the other candidates for that position combined. Erica Davis claimed $70K raised on the summary page of her report but just $50K on the subtotals page – I suspect the $70K number was a typo. She had six total donors listed, two of whom gave $25K each, one who gave $196, and the others gave $19.12 apiece. Vidal Martinez was the other big fundraiser, though as John Coby notes, almost 70% of his donations came from 14 people who each ponied up at least $10K. For sure, it’s all green, but that’s not exactly grassroots support. As for Alexandra Mealer, I’d been wondering about her because I’ve seen multiple signs for her in my very Democratic neighborhood. Turns out she’s also my neighbor, now living in one of the historic houses. That explains a lot.

I included the two Commissioners who are not on the ballot just as a point of comparison. Adrian Garcia is obviously well-equipped for battle. George Risner presumably had a few bucks in his account from his time as a Justice of the Peace, but his candidacy for Commissioner does not seem to have drawn much support so far. Jack Morman also had some coin still in his bank and drew more support on his attempt to come back, but he’s nowhere close to Garcia. For Precinct 4, Jack Cagle raised a reasonable amount, though as you can see not an earth-shaking total, with Lesley Briones coming close to him. He has a tidy sum in his treasury, but it’s less than what he had in July thanks to how much he spent. Gina Calanni didn’t raise much – to be fair, there isn’t that much time between the filing deadline and the finance reporting deadline – but her report showed $40K in pledges, which are noted as transfers from her State House campaign account.

None of the other offices tend to raise much. Chris Daniel has a personal report as well as the SPAC report. The non-SPAC account reported no money raised and $1,151 in expenditures.

Finally, someone named Stephen Kusner filed a finance report for Treasurer in July but is not on either ballot and has no report for January. I’m just making a note of that here in case anyone who looked at my July summary is wondering what happened to him.

I’ll take a look at some state reports next, and Congressional reports later. Let me know if you have any questions.

Bypass the GLO

Heck yeah.

All five members of Harris County Commissioners Court signed onto a letter Friday asking the local congressional delegation to ensure that future disaster relief bypasses the state government and goes directly to large counties.

The letter is the latest round of bipartisan outrage in Houston triggered by the Texas General Land Office’s decision last May to initially shut out the city and the county — the epicenter of flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey — from $1 billion in flood control dollars later awarded to Texas after the 2017 storm.

The letter suggests that Congress or a federal agency require future disaster relief go directly to counties with at least 500,000 residents, instead of being administered by state agencies.

The court’s two Republicans, Commissioners Jack Cagle and Tom Ramsey, joined the court’s Democratic majority — County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Commissioners Rodney Ellis and Adrian Garcia — in signing the letter. Cagle and Ramsey had been sharply critical of fellow Republican George P. Bush, who runs the GLO, after the agency declined to award any money to the city or county.

In the letter, the five court members wrote that a direct allocation of federal aid would “bypass potential bureaucratic delay caused by various Texas agencies and by other entities that will harm our ability to have quick and efficient implementation.”

They did not mention the GLO by name, though the letter was sent to Harris County’s nine-member congressional delegation one week after federal officials halted the distribution of nearly $2 billion in flood control funds to Texas because, they said, the GLO had failed to send in required paperwork detailing its plans to spend the money.

I mean, based on past experience, why would we want to do it any other way? The GLO isn’t just not adding value here, they’re actively reducing it. It’s not a surprise that even the Republican commissioners signed on to this.

On a more philosophical note, a lot of federal relief funds that are targeted at cities and counties and school districts and whatnot have had to go through the state first. For the most part, with COVID funds, the Lege mostly rubber stamped it without much fuss. I know there had been concerns with the pace at which Harvey recovery funds had been spent and homes were being repaired – indeed, there are still a lot of unrepaired homes after all this time – but it seems that a big part of that problem has been having multiple layers of government involved, which led to conflicts and delays and issues getting funds to the people who needed them the most. Indeed, that story also cites issues with the way the GLO interacted with the city of Houston. With COVID relief there were issues with unemployment funds having to go through rickety state systems, no direct way to get other relief funds to people who didn’t have bank accounts, and so forth. There are bigger issues, having to do with underlying infrastructure, that are a big part of this. But even factoring that out, putting states in charge of distributing federal relief funds to localities has been a problem. More so in some states than in others. I don’t know what we can do about that, given everything else going on right now. But we really should do something.

Interviews and judicial Q&As through January 14

Updating from last week. This is to put all of the interviews and judicial Q&As in a single post for your convenience, in case you missed something. This past week was Commissioners Court Precinct 4. Starting Monday will be the County Treasurer and District Clerk races, and the week after that will be Senate District 15 and (I hope – it’s still in the works) Candis Houston from HD142. After that is CD38, and probably statewide candidates.

Here’s the interview list so far, followed by the judicial Q&As. As a reminder, much more information about Democratic primary candidates, including links to the interviews and judicial Q&As, can be found on Erik Manning’s spreadsheet. Let me know if you have any questions.

Interviews

Aurelia Wagner, HD147
Danielle Bess, HD147
Jolanda Jones, HD147
Nam Subramanian, HD147
Reagan Flowers, HD147

Ben Chou, Harris County Commissioners Court Precinct 4
Ann Williams, Harris County Commissioners Court Precinct 4
Gina Calanni, Harris County Commissioners Court Precinct 4
Lesley Briones, Harris County Commissioners Court Precinct 4
Clarence Miller, Harris County Commissioners Court Precinct 4

Judicial Q&As

Judge Abigail Anastasio, 184th Criminal District Court
Lema Barazi, 189th Civil District Court
Judge Scott Dollinger, 189th Civil District Court
Judge Chris Morton, 230th Criminal District Court
Judge Tristan Longino, 245th Family District Court
Judge Hilary Unger, 248th Criminal District Court
Judge Chip Wells, 312th Family District Court
Teresa Waldrop, 312th Family District Court
Judge Natalia Oakes, 313th Family District Court>,

Porscha Natasha Brown, County Criminal Court At Law #3
Judge Kelley Andrews, County Criminal Court At Law #6
Judge Andrew Wright, County Criminal Court At Law #7
Judge Michael Newman, County Probate Court #2

Judge Lucia Bates, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 3 Place 2
Herbert Alexander Sanchez, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 3 Place 2

Interview with Clarence Miller

Clarence Miller

One last interview for Harris County Commissioners Court, Precinct 4. Next week I will have interviews for other county offices, and after that will visit with some more legislative and Congressional races. Today we speak with Clarence Miller, whom I had met in pre-COVID times and was running for this position well before the new map was drawn. Miller worked for the United States Postal Service for 29 years and served as Director of the Houston Post Credit Union, and was elected as Director of the Northwest Harris County Municipal Utility District #24. Here’s the interview:

As with the judicial Q&A’s, more information about Democratic primary candidates, including links to the interviews and judicial Q&As, can be found on Erik Manning’s spreadsheet. I will periodically round up the links to these posts as well.

Interview with Lesley Briones

Lesley Briones

Next up for Harris County Commissioner Precinct 4 is Lesley Briones. Briones was appointed to be the Judge of County Civil Court at Law #4 in 2019 following the Bill McLeod accidental resignation saga; while she resigned her bench upon announcing her candidacy, she remains in place pending the appointment of a new judge, which should happen in January. A South Texas native and graduate of Harvard University, Briones worked at Vinson & Elkins and was General Counsel and Chief Operating Officer of the Laura & John Arnold Foundation prior to her appointment to the bench. Here’s what we talked about:

As with the judicial Q&A’s, more information about Democratic primary candidates, including links to the interviews and judicial Q&As, can be found on Erik Manning’s spreadsheet. I will periodically round up the links to these posts as well.

Interview with Gina Calanni

Gina Calanni

As I’ve noted before, there are several current or recent elected officials in this primary for Harris County Commissioners Court, Precinct 4. One of them is Gina Calanni, who won an upset victory for HD132 in 2018. Unfortunately, the 2020 election was not as successful for her, but she got a lot done in that one term, passing eleven bills during the 2019 session. Calanni is a single mother of three and a published author, and I interviewed her before, in the primary for that 2018 race, which you can listen to here. You can listen to this interview here:

As with the judicial Q&A’s, more information about Democratic primary candidates, including links to the interviews and judicial Q&As, can be found on Erik Manning’s spreadsheet. I will periodically round up the links to these posts as well.

Supreme Court rejects mandamus over Commissioners Court redistricting

The primary will proceed as scheduled, but the issue could be revisited sometime after the 2022 election.

The Texas Supreme Court rejected an effort by Republican commissioners and voters to block Harris County’s recent redistricting plan on Friday, suggesting another challenge still in the works will meet a similar fate.

In their challenge, the petitioners argued that the new maps amounted to illegal Democratic gerrymandering. The new precincts approved by Harris County leaders last year resulted in dramatic shifts that the challengers argued would disenfranchise voters in the upcoming primaries.

But in a narrow ruling, the justices found that they likely couldn’t provide any relief to the challengers because the wheels of the election were already in motion.

“(N)o amount of expedited briefing or judicial expediency at this point can change the fact that the primary election for 2022 is already in its early stages,” their opinion read. “This Court and other Texas courts are duty-bound to respond quickly to urgent cases that warrant expedited proceedings, but even with utmost judicial speed, any relief that we theoretically could provide here would necessarily disrupt the ongoing election process.”

The result is that the new precinct maps will be allowed to stand. The Democratic majority on commissioners court adopted the maps on a 3-2 party line vote in October.

See here and here for the background, and here for a copy of the opinion, which is also embedded in the story. It’s fairly brief and pretty straightforward, so let me summarize:

– The current map violates federal law because of population differences among the four precincts. It was not an option for the court to order that the current map be used while the appeals played out.

– The court ruled that their role in redistricting is limited, and that they did not have nearly enough facts to go on, as many of the plaintiffs’ claims remain in dispute. The burden required to make them step in and halt or change the election, which is already underway, was far too high for them to take action on such a short notice.

– Regarding the (ridiculous) claim about people being disenfranchised because they would have to wait until 2024 to vote when they had been expecting to vote in 2022, the court noted that some number of people will always be in that position when redistricting occurs. The Constitution requires the State Senate (which like Commissioners Court has staggered four-year terms) to have everyone run after redistricting, but there’s no such requirement for Commissioners Courts, which moved to four-year terms by an amendment in 1954. Ordering all four precincts to be on the ballot in 2022 was rejected because of the limited time for anyone who might run in the other precincts to get going. The court also noted that any short-term remedy for Harris County might cause problems with other counties, if people could make similar claims about being disenfranchised.

– Given all that, the court said it had no choice but to reject the writ of mandamus and allow the 2022 election to go forward as planned. The court did not make any claims or judgments about the merits of the plaintiffs’ arguments, and said that if the matter comes back to them after going through the lower courts, they can evaluate them at that time.

So there you have it. There is still the Radack lawsuit out there, but as the story notes it seems extremely unlikely that will succeed at affecting this election based on this ruling. The Cagle/Ramsey lawsuit was dismissed in Harris County district court, so I presume the next step would be for the dismissal, which was made on the grounds that the plaintiffs lacked jurisdiction (this is what the story said, perhaps this should be standing), to be appealed. Success for the plaintiffs would mean sending the case back to a district court, hopefully (for them) to get a hearing and ruling on the merits, which would naturally be appealed by whoever lost. My guess is that this whole process would take a few years if everything proceeds at its normal pace. While the Supreme Court allowed for the possibility of an all-precinct election (under another new map) in 2024, or even a special election presumably before then, I wouldn’t hold my breath on it. Same thing for the Radack lawsuit, which as far as I know has not had an initial hearing yet.

Finally, while this story does not mention it, I wonder if this may also signal the death knell for the two state court redistricting challenges, on the same grounds of not having enough time to do something before people begin voting. That last update suggested the possibility of a trial this week, but I am not aware of any news to that effect. The cases are in Travis County district court, if anyone wants to try to figure that out.

Interview with Ann Williams

Ann Williams

We continue with our series of interviews for the Harris County Commissioner Precinct 4 primary race. Today’s candidate is Ann Williams, who has served on the Alief ISD Board of Trustees since 2007 and is currently serving as that Board’s President; she has held that position for the past seven years. Williams works in information technology and has an MBA to go along with a bachelor’s degree in IT. She also serves as the President of the Texas Caucus Black School Board Members. Please note, there were a couple of times when the Zoom session froze for a few seconds. I apologize for the glitches. Here’s the interview:

As with the judicial Q&A’s, more information about Democratic primary candidates, including links to the interviews and judicial Q&As, can be found on Erik Manning’s spreadsheet. I will periodically round up the links to these posts as well.

Back to Code Red

Hopefully not for too long.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo on Monday moved the county again to its highest COVID-19 threat level, her office said.

The announcement should be old hat for Hidalgo, who has moved to Level Red each of the past three calendar years.

“Unfortunately, today we find ourselves crossing a threshold we don’t want to cross,” Hidalgo said at Booker Elementary School in Spring ISD. “We are in the midst of another COVID-10 tsunami.”

She cited an explosion of new COVID-19 cases. She expounded on the dangers of the new Omicron variant. She pointed out that virus hospitalizations are increasing at a higher rate than ever.

Twenty-one months into the pandemic, a question looms: How many people are still listening?

Schools are back in session. Restaurants, bars, theatres and sports arenas are open to capacity. There are no county- or state-wide mask rules. Moving to Level Red does not change any of that; instead, it urges unvaccinated residents to stay home and avoid unnecessary contact with others. The decree is not enforceable.

[…]

Hidalgo has made warning the public about COVID-19 central to her messaging since the pandemic reached Texas in March 2020. For more than a year, she and county public health officials have cajoled, implored, exhorted, implored, advised, recommended, begged and even bribed residents to get vaccinated.

Hidalgo tried to remain optimistic, reasoning that getting more residents inoculated is the way to retreat from Level Red and never return.

“We can break that habit,” Hidalgo said. “I don’t want this always to be bad news.”

Growth of the county’s rate of vaccinated residents has slowed significantly. It now stands at 59.8 percent, up just 3.3 percent since before Thanksgiving. At this rate, 70 percent county of county residents would not be vaccinated until July.

See here for the previous time the threat level was raised. It’s a fair question whether anyone is still listening. I never really stopped wearing masks for indoor things like grocery shopping and ordering at restaurants – I eat outside if at all possible – but now I’m wearing KN95s instead of cloth masks. In my observation, we’re nowhere close to the levels of mask wearing we had a year ago, and few places are doing much about it. I guess we’re going to got for a low-rent version of herd immunity, at least for the short term. Better hope that the “milder” part of this strain holds up. More here from the Chron.