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Eartha Jean Johnson

Lillie Schechter elected HCDP Chair

Lillie Schechter

Six candidates were nominated for HCDP Chair at Sunday’s County Executive Committee meeting: Dominique Davis, Johnathan Miller, Chris Spellmon, Keryl Douglass, Eartha Jean Johnson, and Lillie Schechter. Each candidate was given two minutes for a speech in a pre-determined order, and the most interesting thing to come out of those speeches was candidates Spellmon and Douglass urging their supporters to cast their votes for Johnson. I presume this was a strategic move, to not split the vote among the three of them and give one candidate – Johnson – the best possible odds of making to a runoff. You may ask, as I did, why they just didn’t decline the nomination. Assuming they could decline the nominations, which may or may not be the case under the rules, being nominated meant they got to deliver those speeches and thus advocate for Johnson.

Not a bad plan, but it wasn’t enough. There were 359 current precinct chairs in attendance – afterwards, in the regular meeting, a bunch of new precinct chairs were inaugurated, but they were not eligible to vote in this election – and via the “division of the room” method we are all familiar with by now, Schechter emerged victorious in the first round, collecting 190 votes to Johnson’s 118; Miller had 30 and Davis 21. She was then sworn in by TDP Chair Gilberto Hinojosa, who was present for the meeting.

In the end, I supported Schechter. It was a tough choice – I liked all four of the candidates who asked for our votes – but in the end I decided Schechter had the best combination of priorities, experience, and fundraising abilities. She got off to a good start, calling all of the Chair candidates up to the dais and thanking them for their dedication. There’s always the possibility of bitterness after an election like this, but I didn’t get the sense there was any after this one. I hope that remains the case.

One promise all of the candidates made was to ensure the Party is fully funded for its day-to-day and campaign efforts, and to fill the empty precinct chair positions. The 359 chairs who voted were about 75% of active chairs at the time. There were others sworn in following the election as noted, but the grand total is still only about half of the total number of precincts, or maybe 60% of the precincts that have any real population in them. There’s plenty of room to grow, and that’s without mentioning the fact that some precinct chairs are more active than others. We will definitely have some objective data by which to judge Schechter’s tenure as Chair.

All in all, it was a good experience. I hope it’s a long time before I’m called upon again as a precinct chair to select someone for office. I’ve exercised enough power to last a lifetime, thanks. My thanks to now-former Chair Lane Lewis, and congratulations to Lillie Schechter. I think I speak for many when I say we hope for big things from you. The Chron has more.

Date set for HCDP Chair election

From the Inbox:

Lane Lewis

Two months ago, I announced my intention to resign in February 2017. This will result in a vacancy, therefore we must move forward with a special election. The Precinct Chairs of Harris County will elect a replacement Chair at the next County Executive Committee Meeting.

I am confident that our Precinct Chairs will select the best candidate to serve as Party Chair. Keep an eye out for further emails with meeting location information in the next coming days. The CEC Meeting will be open to the public.

February 26, 2017 from 4:00 PM-6:00 PM: Public Forum to meet the individuals interested in consideration for the Harris County Democratic Party Chair position. The Forum will be hosted by the HCDP (All are welcome and public comment will be encouraged).

March 05, 2017 from 3:00 PM-6:00 PM: CEC Meeting to select the replacement Chair of the Harris County Democratic Party (All are welcome, but only Precinct Chairs currently listed on the Texas Secretary of State’s website are eligible to vote).

I will definitely be there for both. In the meantime, Lillie Schechter made her formal announcement for Chair, while Tomaro Bell dropped out and endorsed Schechter. Assuming that Art Pronin is still either on the fence or not going to get in, we have: Robert Collier, Eartha Jean Johnson, Lillie Schechter, Chris Spellmon, Dominique Davis, Keryl Douglass, Johnathan Miller, and Rony Escobar. I hope to have Q&A responses from all of them before the 26th.

HCDP Chair Q&A: Eartha Jean Johnson

(Note: I have sent out a brief Q&A to all of the announced HCDP Chair candidates for whom I could find contact information. I will run the responses I get in the order I receive them. While only precinct chairs will vote on the new Chair, I believe everyone should have some basic information about the candidates.)

Eartha Jean Johnson

1. Who are you, and what is your background/experience in Democratic politics?

My name is Eartha Jean Johnson and I am an attorney and President and CEO of Risk Mitigation Worldwide (formerly, LegalWATCH), an award-winning risk mitigation company that helps executives reduce and prevent compliance sanctions, lawsuits and negative press associated with company policies, processes and employee actions and communications. We also have a family business, LJ5 Real Estate Development Company LLP. I am married to Lonnie Johnson, a former lobbyist and attorney. We have 3 children who are also attorneys, practicing here in Houston.

I have worked in politics in some form or fashion for more than three decades. I have served as a Telephone and Block Walking Canvasser, Election Protection volunteer, Poll Watcher, Deputy Voter Registrar and have traveled out of state to campaign. In addition, I have donated to candidates and worked on numerous Presidential and Judicial campaigns. Most recently, I organized Houston’s Women of Color for Hillary Clinton, which resulted in one of the largest reception turnouts of Women of Color for Hillary across the country. I also started the Turn Texas Blue Movement; an idea that turned into a movement, where we utilized innovative ideas and approaches that significantly increased the number of registered voters, mail in ballots, and voter turnout for the November 2016 election.

2. Why are you running to be HCDP Chair?

Harris County needs a leader who: 1) is selfless and has strong leadership skills, 2) is inclusive and can work across the aisles and with all personalities; 3) is an independent thinker and fighter; 4) can raise money; and 6) most importantly, has the passion and enthusiasm to motivate people to action and get results.

I am that person and have demonstrated performance to show it. As Chair, I pledge to bring innovative approaches, experience, fundraising skills and most importantly a detailed plan to move the party forward. Not only will we have a well-funded Harris County Democratic Party, we will be a more inclusive and collaborative Party, with an infrastructure that will position us to play more offense than defense. Like Martin had a dream for the world, I have a dream for the Democratic Party.

I offer my hands to work every day to unify our party, raise money and get Democrats elected; I offer my voice to make sure our concerns are heard; and I offer my heart to be a passionate, dedicated and relentless advocate as our Party Chair. Together we will make Harris County Democratic Party a model for our country.

3. What is your assessment of the HCDP today, and what does it need to do going forward?

Harris County has a strong Democratic base and awesome community and association leaders dedicated to doing everything in their power to keep Harris County blue. What HCDP needs to move forward is to capitalize on the strengths we have and unite and collaborate with Democratic Clubs, and with Community and Trade Associations across the county to devise a well thought out blueprint to build an inclusive, efficient, self-sustaining infrastructure that produces by far more successful than unsuccessful candidates. The days of uncontested Republican races are over. We will not only have individuals competing for every race on the ballot; we will have individuals who are competitive and understand what it takes to run a campaign and to win the race. We will put our money and support behind each candidate, from School Board to Congress.

In addition, it is essential we get our youth and young adults engaged and actively participating. We must begin by providing them with seats at the table and make every effort to fill vacant Precinct Chair positions with young adults; this way we will begin to build a pipeline of our Democratic leaders of tomorrow. We also need to form a Harris County Democratic Party Young Democrats Division, and allow our youth to set the young adult agenda, and develop programs and events to motivate and excite other youth to get involved and engaged.

4. How do you use social media? How should the HCDP be using social media?

I use social media more as an informational tool to keep up with friends and on community issues and use social media as a conduit to voice my opinions on controversial issues in the press.

The use of social media and technology should be one of our organizations’ primary outreach platforms.

We must use social media and other technology to keep our constituents informed and engaged, i.e., solicit thoughts, opinions, and ideas. We should also use it as a vehicle to recruit and train candidates and as a conduit to notify our base of open position on the ballot. We can also use social media to poll our constituents on controversial issues and provide a chat room for open discussions on political issues, as well as to solicit thoughts and opinion on the future direction of our party. Additionally, we can use social media to provide monthly webinars to keep everyone informed and engaged. Finally, if elected, I plan to use social media to implement my 20.18 Plan fundraising initiative (see response to question 6).

5. What kind of involvement should the HCDP have in non-partisan races (city council, school board, etc.)?

We should support candidates who are independent thinkers and best align with our Party’s democratic ideas and values.

6. What is your plan to improve Democratic turnout in 2018?

If elected, we will continue the programs we initiated with the Turn Texas Blue Movement and implement the 20.18 Plan.

Turn Texas Blue Movement Internalized Voter Registration Initiative – Our goal was to get barber and beauty shop owners, church members, trade association employees, individuals living in senior living and assisted living facilities deputized so they could register voters on a continuous and ongoing basis. Our vision was get so many people deputized within businesses and organizations that a person couldn’t go within 5 miles of their homes without seeing a sign saying, “You can Register to Vote Here.”

Enhanced Voter Registration – By capturing email addresses, we notified voters when early voting began, provided a link to early voting locations and sent daily countdown reminders to increase the likelihood they would vote.

Mail in Ballot Initiatives

We will continue the Turn Texas Blue Movement, “Out of County College and University Initiative.” As part of this initiative, we reached out to colleges and universities, both in and out of state, with large populations of Texas residents and implemented a coordinated mail in ballot campaign, which resulted in over a 1000 mail in ballots.

We will also continue our Courthouse and Jail Voter Registration Campaigns – We registered voters as they entered and exited courthouses and notified past felons of their right to vote if they were off papers. We also had an initiative to register eligible individuals who were confined in jail.

Our Funding Source – The 2018 Plan

In 2016, Bernie Sanders raised a record $234,000,000 dollars, with an average contribution of $27.00. Bernie could raise the money because he was passionate about the things he fought for and got his base excited. Not only did Bernie’s constituents give, they became active and engaged. For the Harris County Democratic Party to improve our voter turnout, we need a Chair who can motivate our base AND get our young adults excited and involved, while holding onto those who have carried this party for decades. If we do this, we will have no problem raising money. Like Bernie, I have that fire and passion and a proven record of accomplishment starting a movement and getting people excited.

If elected, we will implement the 20.18 Plan to fund the total upgrade of the Harris County Democratic Party. The 20.18 Plan calls for getting 20% of Democrats who voted in the 2016 election to contribute a mere $20.18 per year, which will result in us raising over $5 million dollars by 2018. This will help us fund our mission to take back Democratic control of all local and state races in 2018. We will no longer just survive, but will thrive.

We will not only use the money to recruit and prepare candidates, we will use it to support Democratic candidates in every race, from school board to congress. No longer will we make it cost prohibited for judges to run for office. We will help them shoulder the financial burden and assist with their campaigns. Our goal is to make it easier for great candidates to run.

7. Why should precinct chairs support you to be the next HCDP Chair and not one of your opponents?

I have gotten to know most of my opponents and have come to respect and admire them. I believe, if successful, they will do a good job. What sets me apart from my opponents, however, are my innovative ideas and passion, which people tell me is infectious. It is my passion and God given ability to motivate people to act that will make all the difference. Like Bernie taught us, when you excite and motivate your constituents, not only will they get engaged, they will contribute. There is no other candidate in this race with my level of experience, fundraising abilities, leadership skills, and most importantly, passion to motivate others to act. It is the passion that makes the difference between good and great.

Still more HCDP Chair hopefuls

From the inbox, from precinct chair Sterling Camp:

Lane Lewis

10 Possible County Chair Candidates

I’ve been emailed that Keryl Douglas, former executive director of Houston NAACP, will be running for County Chair. The list grows to 10.

Tomaro Bell
Robert Collier
Dominique Davis
Keryl Douglas
Rony Escobar
Eartha Jean Johnson
Johnathan F. Miller
Art Pronin (considering)
Lillie Schechter
Chris Spellmon

SD17 Forum Moved to Feb. 9

The SD17 County Chair Forum has been changed to Thursday, Feb. 9. All are welcome to attend. Further details to be provided.

Special Election Meeting

I called the office, identified myself, and asked for when the meeting to elect the new County Chair is. The staff who answered the phone said that it has not been decided yet, and Precinct Chairs will be emailed when it is scheduled. So we still do not know when the meeting is.

Here’s Camp’s previous email, which contains information about the qualifications one needs to have to be a county party chair. I will make plans to attend that forum, which is being organized by SD17 Chair Tom Gederberg. I would note at this time that this race, like the ones last year for nominations to be County Commissioner and all that other stuff, will be decided by precinct chairs. What that means is that as was the case with those “races” last year, the only candidates will be those who are nominated during the selection process by a precinct chair, and what that means is that some number of people who say they are running will wind up on the sidelines when the actual vote takes place. That’s how it went with County Commissioner and SD13, where several of the announced candidates, some of whom participated in candidate forums, were never officially put up for consideration.

Which is why I’m a little puzzled that there hasn’t been more outreach from the candidates yet. I have received a couple of emails from Eartha Johnson, and both she and Rony Escobar were at a meeting of the Spring Branch Dems on Wednesday, where I had been invited to speak. I’ve now also received an email from Robert Collier, but so far that’s it. There are multiple people on that list above who have good resumes, but no clear frontrunners. Most if not all of them will need to introduce themselves and make a case for themselves to the precinct chairs. I hope we get more of that soon.

So who is running to succeed Lane Lewis as HCDP Chair?

Lane Lewis

It has been over a month since Lane Lewis announced his impemding departure as HCDP Chair. Since then, I have been asked by multiple people if I have heard from any potential candidates to replace him. My answer has been, and as of this morning continues to be, no I have not. I presume that with the holidays and the preparations for the Legislative session and the resistance to the Trump regime, this has been somewhat of a back burner item for people. That said, there will be a County Executive Committee meeting for the HCDP in February (date and time not yet scheduled, but we know it’s coming), at which precinct chairs will vote to name a successor. I have to assume that some time between now and then, the interested parties will make themselves known to the chairs and will ask them for their support.

In the meantime, I have now heard a few names mentioned as possibilities. The following are the names I have heard mentioned by more than one person:

Rony Escobar
Dominique Davis
Chris Spellmon
Lillie Schechter
Art Pronin

Lillie Schechter is a political consultant who has worked with Sen. Sylvia Garcia, CM Jerry Davis, former Council candidate Tom McCasland, and others. Her mother Sue Schechter was HCDP Chair in the late 90s-early 2000s, right before Gerry Birnberg. Art Pronin is the President of the Meyerland Democrats club, which is one of the more active clubs in the area. He’s the only person on this list that I have talked to so far, and isn’t committed to running but is thinking about it. He and Schechter are the two potential candidates that I know best. Davis is the Chief of Staff/Director of Operations of the HCDP, so she would clearly have plenty of experience going in. I’m sure I’ve met her but don’t know her beyond that. I don’t know Escobar or Spellmon at all. This email from the Meyerland Dems mentions the names Rob Collier and Tomaro Bell, whom I also don’t know. (The email actually says “Robin Collier”, but I have since received clarification that it is Rob Collier, whose wife Rabea was a candidate for judge in 2016.)

So that’s what I know at this time. I don’t have a preferred candidate yet, as I would like to hear from everyone and get an idea of what they have in mind to do as HCDP Chair. Tomorrow I will post about the sort of things I’d like to see our next HCDP Chair do.

UPDATE: One more name to add, Eartha Jean Johnson, who wins the distinction of being the first HCDP Chair hopeful to send me an official email of her candidacy.