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Election 2021

Charter amendment petitions are in

I need a simpler name for this thing, so that Future Me will have an easier time searching for relevant posts.

Houston voters likely will get to decide in November whether City Council members should have the power to place items on the weekly City Hall agenda, a power currently reserved for the mayor.

A group called the Houston Charter Amendment Petition Coalition on Monday delivered a measure with nearly 40,000 signatures to the city secretary, who now has 30 days to verify them. It takes 20,000 to get the issue onto the ballot.

If the city secretary approves the signatures, the issue likely would go to voters in November. It would allow any three of the City Council’s 16 members to join forces to place an item on the weekly agenda, when the council votes on actions. The mayor now has nearly full control of the schedule in Houston’s strong mayor form of government.

[…]

Two of the council’s 16 members, Amy Peck and Michael Kubosh, showed their support at the press conference Monday when the coalition delivered its signatures.

The coalition includes a broad group of political groups, including the Houston firefighters’ union, the Harris County Republican Party, and the Houston chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America.

But the opposition is similarly wide-ranging. In addition to Turner, a Democrat, conservative Councilmember Greg Travis also thinks it would be harmful. He would be open to other reforms, but three members is too low a bar, Travis said, and would result in “all kinds of irrational, wacky, inefficient” items reaching the council.

“You don’t sit there and open a Pandora’s box,” Travis said. “It’s not the correct solution to the problem.”

See here and here for the background. “Houston Charter Amendment Petition Coalition” it is, I guess, but that’s still pretty damn generic. I must admit, I’m a little surprised to see CM Travis speak against this, since I had him pegged as a chief contributor to the forthcoming irrational wackiness. Good to know that our local politics can still surprise me.

If nothing else, this will be an interesting test of the ability for a (potentially high-profile) charter referendum to generate turnout, since this is a non-Mayoral election year. Turnout in 2017, the previous (and only so far) non-city election year was 101K, with the various pension obligation bonds that were a (forced) part of the pension reform deal as the main driver of interest. By comparison, the 2007 and 2011 elections, with their sleepy Mayoral races, each had about 125K voters, and that’s at a time with fewer registered voters (about 920K in Harris County in 2011, and 1.052 million in 2017). I’m not going to make any wild-ass guesses about turnout now, when we have yet to see what either a pro- or con- campaign might look like, but for sure 100K is a dead minimum given the data we have. At a similar turnout level for 2007/2011, and accounting for the increase in RVs since then (probably about 1.1 million now; it was 1.085 million in 2019), we’re talking 140-150K. Those are your hardcore, there’s-an-election-so-I’m-voting voters. We’ll see if we can beat that.

Sery Kim

Poor baby.

A Texas congressional candidate on Monday sued The Texas Tribune for defamation, claiming that the newspaper wrongly identified her as a “racist.”

In an article, Texas Tribune political reporter Patrick Svitek reported on comments made by Sery Kim, a Korean American who is on the ballot for Texas’s 6th Congressional District, during a GOP forum March 31. Responding to a question about U.S. immigration, Kim reportedly said, “I don’t want them here at all.” According to the Tribune, she was referring to Chinese immigrants.

“They steal our intellectual property, they give us coronavirus, they don’t hold themselves accountable,” she continued, according to the Tribune.

“And quite frankly, I can say that because I’m Korean,” she reportedly added.

The Tribune article in question ran with the headline, “GOP congressional candidate in Texas special election loses prominent supporters after racist comment about Chinese immigrants.”

Following these comments, two of Kim’s largest backers, California Reps. Young Kim (R) and Michelle Steel (R) — the first two Korean American Republicans to serve in Congress — pulled their endorsements for her.

In the lawsuit, Kim claimed that the Tribune “rendered judgment on what is the standard for a racist comment” by using the quote from Kim, “I don’t want them here at all,” later adding that “The Texas Tribune’s direct quote from Sery Kim does not have any words relating to China, Chinese, Chinese immigrants or any nouns or pronouns or even adjectives other than ‘them.’ ”

According to the lawsuit, the paper acted with actual malice by writing “outside of the direct quote made by Sery Kim,” the phrase Chinese immigrants “to paint Sery Kim as a racist.”

The lawsuit adds that “at no point” during the forum “did Sery Kim, in direct quotes, say she didn’t want Chinese immigrants here at all.”

I didn’t write about the original story because “Republican candidate says something stupid and offensive” is hardly noteworthy. This is next level, so I have to give her some props. My vast experience in reading and watching legal dramas makes me fully qualified to say that this will be laughed out of court, and if a bunch of Twitter commenters are correct, could subject her to court costs due to Texas’ anti-SLAPP law. I will say this much: If the goal was to stand out in an extremely crowded special election field, she has accomplished that.

Here come the petitions for the latest charter amendment effort

I’m still skeptical of this, but we’ll see how it goes.

A coalition pushing to give Houston City Council members more input at City Hall says it has gathered the required 20,000 signatures to place a charter amendment on the ballot.

The measure, if approved by voters, would allow any three City Council members to place an item on the council’s weekly agenda. Right now, the mayor has near-full control of the agenda. That allows the mayor to block measures he or she does not support.

Houston has a strong-mayor form of government that gives the chief executive far-reaching powers over the city’s day-to-day business. The city charter currently allows three council members to call a special meeting and set its agenda. That power is rarely used, however, and typically occurs as a rebuke of the mayor, failing to attract the majority of council needed to conduct business.

The coalition said it will deliver the signatures, which it began collecting in October, to City Hall on Monday and is eyeing a referendum on the November ballot this year. The coalition is a widely divergent group of organizations, including the Houston firefighters’ union, the Harris County Republican Party, Urban Reform, Indivisible Houston, the Houston chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America and Houston Justice.

The city secretary will have 30 days to validate the signatures, and then council will have to put the measure on the ballot for the next election date. The organizers likely missed the deadline to get on the May 1 ballot, which was Feb. 12, according to the Secretary of State’s website. The next election date is Nov. 2. The last day to order an election for that date is Aug. 16.

Charles Blain, an organizer with the coalition and president of the conservative Urban Reform, declined to say how many signatures the coalition gathered. That will be revealed at a Monday news conference, he said.

Blain argued the measure is needed to “finally get some resolution” to critical policy issues that have not reached the agenda.

“It’s important because the community deserves representation,” Blain said. “I know we all have district council members, but it’s incredibly frustrating that our district council members can’t team up with a few of their colleagues and get something on the agenda.”

See here for the background, and for how I feel about this, which remains true today. Maybe on Monday when they have that Monday news conference they can tell us what ideas that 1) have majority support on Council but are opposed by Mayor Turner and 2) would not be blocked by the state via lawsuit or new legislation they have in mind. I believe that setting the threshold to three means the most frequent use of this power would be for the troublemaker factions to bring forth items that can’t and won’t be passed but can waste time and cause division. But maybe I’m wrong, and maybe there will be some currently-blocked agenda items that meet my criteria that would finally get a Council vote that will be revealed on Monday. I’m open to persuasion if the argument is there, but I need to hear the argument first. Perhaps I’ll get to hear it on Monday.

(FYI, I was approached by a petition collector for this effort at our neighborhood Kroger about a week ago. I declined to sign, but assumed at the time that they must still be in need of signatures to meet their goal. I’m a little surprised at the timing here, but maybe this guy was an outlier.)

Meet your new voting machines

Long time coming.

Harris County’s new voting machine, which county leaders showed off on Wednesday, incorporates old and new technology the county election administrator says will make voting easier and boost public confidence in elections.

The Hart InterCivic Verity Duo, the county’s new model, has a touch screen interface that allows users to quickly make selections. It also produces a paper ballot which voters can ensure accurately marked their choices before submitting it into a scanner.

“I am ecstatic about the new machines,” Harris County Election Administrator Isabel Longoria said. “The touch screen process, the accessibility features, the paper ballot so that people can make sure the selections they made are the ones that are counted — this is all phenomenal for Houston.”

[…]

The Verity Duo stores a voter’s ballot in three separate locations, Longoria said: on two separate hard drives inside the machines and also on the paper ballot that is scanned. The hard copy ballots are kept for 22 months, in case a manual election audit is needed. The paper ballots are printed in English rather than a bar code, which allows humans and computers to read the same document, Hart Senior Vice President Peter Litchenheld said.

The machines are enabled to perform in the county’s four ballot languages — English, Spanish, Vietnamese and Mandarin — and also offer large text sizes for visually impaired voters.

The Harris County Election Administration Office is debuting the new machines in the May joint election. November will be the first countywide election in which they will be used.

See here for the previous update. There’s a video in the story showing how the new machine is used. I think people in general will find the touchscreen interface to be easier and more intuitive to use, but I agree with Campos that the Elections office should do as much public outreach about these new machines as they can. We all know that if it’s this year or 2024, some number of people are going to show up and have no idea that there are new machines and won’t know what to do with them. The best we can do is try to minimize that number. Houston Public Media has more.

How much should Dems try to compete in the CD06 special election?

Let’s make sure someone gets to the runoff, then we can worry about that.

Rep. Ron Wright

Democrats running to replace the late U.S. Rep. Ron Wright, R-Arlington, believe they can flip the seat in an unpredictable off-year special election. But Democrats at large are not as sure — or willing to say it out loud.

That is becoming clear as campaigning ramps up for the May 1 contest, when 23 candidates — including 11 Republicans and 10 Democrats — will be on the ballot in Texas’ 6th Congressional District. With so many contenders, the race is likely to go to a mid-summer runoff, and Democrats involved hope they can secure a second-round spot on their way to turning the district blue.

While Democrats have cause for optimism — the district has rapidly trended blue in recent presidential election results — some are urging caution. They are mindful of a few factors, not the least of which is a 2020 election cycle in which high Democratic expectations culminated in deep disappointment throughout the ballot.

“We’re not counting our chickens before they hatch and we’re gonna work to earn every vote,” said Abhi Rahman, a Texas Democratic strategist who previously worked for the state party. “This is not a bellwether. This is the first of many battles that will eventually lead to Texas turning blue.”

With just under a month until early voting begins, national Democrats are showing few outward signs that they are ready to engage in the race, even as candidates and their supporters press the case that the district is flippable. They point out that Trump carried the district by only 3 percentage points in November after winning it by 12 points in 2016. Mitt Romney carried the district by 17 points in 2012.

“It absolutely is a competitive race,” said Stephen Daniel, the 2020 Democratic nominee for the seat, who opted against running in the special election. He added he thinks that national Democrats need “to get involved because I think the more resources you have to get out there and help you reach these voters can only help.”

On the flip side, Wright, who died in February weeks after testing positive for the coronavirus, won the seat when it was open in 2018 by 8 points and by 9 points in 2020. Both times the seat was a target of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, though the designation came late in the cycle and the group did not spend significant money in either election.

And while Trump carried the district by only 3 points in November, every other statewide Republican candidate, including U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, won it by more comfortable margins ranging from 6 to 8 points.

Yes, it’s a big field, and Democratic-aligned groups like Emily’s List are currently staying neutral since there are multiple female candidates and they don’t usually take sides in that kind of situation. (The AFL-CIO endorsed Lydia Bean, so not everyone is biding their time.) For what it’s worth, there have been a couple of polls released so far, the first on behalf of Jana Sanchez showing her comfortably in second place (and thus in the runoff) and the second on behalf of Lydia Bean that also showed Sanchez in second place but with about half the support and much closer to both Bean and to GOPer Jake Ellzey. Both have Susan Wright, the widow of Rep. Ron Wright, in first place. While I agree that Susan Wright is the likely frontrunner, I would caution you to not take any CD06 poll too seriously.

The Dem candidates so far are being cordial to one another, which is the right strategic move at this time. The best outcome from a strictly utilitarian perspective is for one of them to separate from the pack and be in good position to make it to overtime. After that, I do think there should be an investment by the national players in this race, if only to keep pace with the GOP entrant. Special elections in reasonably mixed districts are all about turnout, and it wouldn’t take that much to sneak past the finish line. By any reasonable objective, this is a Lean R district, but it’s far from hopeless. Step one is having someone to be there for the runoff. Everything else is just details.

HISD Board wins again in court

They’re still a thing, and Mike Morath can’t do anything about it right now.

The Houston ISD school board earned another win Friday in its effort to stave off Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath’s plan to replace it with an appointed board, this time prevailing in a procedural battle before the state Supreme Court.

In an 8-1 decision, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that a state appellate court had the legal right to temporarily halt Morath’s move to oust HISD’s school board amid an ongoing lawsuit.

The ruling is not final victory for HISD in its fight with Morath. It merely means that the education commissioner cannot immediately move to replace trustees with a board of managers, which could vote to drop the lawsuit. The HISD board’s case remains pending, with an appeal related to the central issues of the case pending before the Texas Supreme Court.

Lawyers representing Morath and the Texas Education Agency argued that a state law precluded the courts from stopping state administrative actions — such as stripping power from school board members and appointing replacements — even if a trial court issues a temporary injunction. A Travis County judge overseeing HISD’s lawsuit issued such an injunction in January 2020.

An appellate court partially agreed with the TEA’s position, but the judges also found that they separately had the power to halt an administrative action under the state’s rules of appellate procedure, which they did in HISD’s case.

Lawyers for Morath and TEA disagreed and asked the state Supreme Court to overturn that finding, but the eight justices sided with the lower court.

See here and here for the background. This is a procedural ruling, which just means that the TEA does not get to take over HISD while the appeal of the ruling that said that the TEA did not properly follow the law while attempting to do the takeover is being litigated. HISD still has to win that appeal, and then have that upheld by the Supreme Court, to get out of the current situation. In the meantime, there’s the Harold Dutton bill that would make all of this moot, though it too would surely be subject to a lawsuit. I dunno, maybe the TEA should try to negotiate a settlement of some kind if they lose again, so we can all get on with our lives? Just a thought.

Come one, come all to the CD06 special election

Now that is what I call a field.

Rep. Ron Wright

A crowd of 23 candidates — including 11 Republicans and 10 Democrats — has filed for the May 1 special election to fill the seat of the late U.S. Rep. Ron Wright, R-Arlington, according to the secretary of state’s office.

The filing deadline was 5 p.m. Wednesday. The race also attracted one independent and one Libertarian.

The GOP field saw a last-minute surprise. With less than an hour until the deadline, Dan Rodimer, the former professional wrestler who ran as a Republican for Congress last year in Nevada, arrived at the secretary of state’s office in Austin to file for the seat.

“We need fighters in Texas, and that’s what I’m coming here for,” Rodimer told The Texas Tribune. “I’m moving back to Texas. I have six children and I want them to be raised in a constitutional-friendly state.”

Some of the other candidates had already announced their campaigns, most notably Wright’s widow, longtime GOP activist Susan Wright. Other prominent Republican contenders include state Rep. Jake Ellzey of Waxahachie and Brian Harrison, the former chief of staff at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services under President Donald Trump.

On Tuesday evening, one potential major GOP candidate, former Trump campaign adviser Katrina Pierson, announced she was not running.

On the Democratic side, the field includes Jana Lynne Sanchez, the 2018 Democratic nominee for the seat; Lydia Bean, last year’s Democratic nominee against state Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth; and Shawn Lassiter, a Fort Worth education nonprofit leader.

See here and here for some background. The full list of candidates can be found at the end of the story. A field this size tends to defy analysis, but we’ll get some idea of who has legs and who doesn’t when we see the Q1 finance reports, which will include whatever fundraising activity these folks can muster up for the rest of the month. I do feel confident saying there will be some separation evident from that. Just getting your name out there, and distinguishing yourself from the almost two dozen (!) other candidates will be a heck of a challenge.

An early analysis of the CD06 special election

Four your perusal.

Rep. Ron Wright

So, this is the part where I say the take I’ve had in my head since the seat opened up – Joe Biden should have won the district, and it was a fairly pathetic result to lose by 3. The district – a diverse, socially liberal seat without too many whites without a degree should have gone blue. What we can’t say with certainty, but I feel very confident about, is that Biden’s numbers with white voters and Beto’s numbers with Hispanics would have left the seat as a dead tie, because Beto outran Biden by 14% with Hispanics, and correcting that would move the seat left by about 3%. If Biden had managed to actually meaningfully advance off 2018 with college whites, the district is his, and honestly, it would be so fairly easily. That inability to convert those voters at the pace or speed that many expected, led by polls that just entirely missed reality, was a shock.

Given my prior beliefs – that rural whites and low propensity Hispanics won’t turn out like they did in 2020 – I feel pretty good in saying that the electorate that will vote on special election day (and in the weeks before) will be an electorate that would have voted for Joe Biden. I expect Tarrant to cast a greater share of votes this year than 2020, I expect the % of the electorate with a college degree to rise, and I expect Black voters in the district to be motivated to continue the arduous work of bailing out white America, because that seems to be the life that white America demands of them. That said, I don’t think Democrats are favoured – after all, the GOP did outrun Biden/Trump by 5% downballot.

There are three wrinkles in this conversation, which all matter. The first is that the widow is running, which could engender some sympathy from voters, making this election a harder data point to extrapolate from, and the second is a related point, which is that I have no idea who the Democratic nominee will be. I can’t pretend to be too eager to run the guy who managed to underrun Joe Biden by 5% again, but I’m not sure who would be better. Neither of those issues radically change my assessment of this race.

My first thought, from the moment the race unfortunately triggered, was that we would get a result better for Democrats than November 2020 and not good enough to credibly contend, in other words, a 3-5% loss with a couple of tied internals that gets certain parts of Twitter excited. That remains my prediction – something between the Presidential result and the House result, one that is good news for Democrats but not great news, or inarguably good for them. Again, I expect the GOP to win this seat. But I won’t be surprised if they lose it, because of the third wrinkle this race has seen.

The third wrinkle to this race – don’t worry, I hadn’t forgotten about it – is the song of fire and ice that Texas had to live with (and, in many places, is still living with). Or, maybe better, the song of ice and ice. The cold snap has exposed the state as woefully unprepared for huge amounts of snow, which leads to debatable positions on how southern states should prepare for freak snowstorms. That Texans got absolutely fucked by ERCOT, and are staring at 5 figure power bills that are a fucking disgrace, is not up for similar debate. This debacle – and the way that Democrats from AOC to Beto have stepped up to the plate, while Ted Cruz cut and run to Cancun – has the potential to sour people on the Texas GOP, especially if the threat of people actually having to pay those sorts of expenses is still hanging in the air on voting day.

Emphasis in the original, and see here and here for some background. Stephen Daniel, the 2020 candidate alluded to above, is not running, but 2018 candidate Jana Sanchez, who trailed Beto by about three points in 2018, is running. I agree that probably doesn’t matter that much, but for what it’s worth, I think it’s more that Ron Wright, who had previously been the Tax Assessor/Collector in Tarrant County, ran ahead of the GOP pack more than Daniel and Sanchez ran behind. That advantage likely transfers to Susan Wright, but it may vanish if she finishes out of the money. The filing deadline is today, so we’ll see how big and potentially chaotic this field will be.

The CD06 field is already big

Pretty common for this kind of special election.

Rep. Ron Wright

The race to replace the late U.S. Rep. Ron Wright, R-Arlington, has already attracted a crowd of candidates — and more are expected in the coming days.

Even before Gov. Greg Abbott announced Tuesday that the special election would be May 1, Democrats and Republicans were lining up for the seat, and as of Wednesday, at least 10 contenders had entered the contest. They range from the obscure to well-known, most notably including Wright’s widow, Susan Wright, who made her bid official Wednesday morning.

The filing deadline is a week away — 5 p.m. March 3.

The district has been trending Democratic in statewide results, though Ron Wright won his races comfortably, and national Democrats are now faced with the decision of how hard to push to flip the district in the special election. Last year, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee targeted 10 GOP-held districts in Texas — including Ron Wright’s — and captured none of them.

Still, some Democrats see opportunity.

The district “fundamentally changed as the Republican Party has changed,” said one of the Democrats running, Jana Lynne Sanchez, the 2018 nominee for the seat.

For Republicans, the race could turn into a referendum on the direction of their party after the presidency of Donald Trump, who has connections to at least two potential contenders. So far, though, much of the discussion on the GOP side of the contest has centered on the candidacy of Susan Wright, who starts off as the most formidable-looking candidate and was already collecting endorsements Wednesday.

[…]

On the Democratic side, the first to declare was Sanchez, who faced Ron Wright for the congressional seat when it was open three years ago and lost by 8 points. When Sanchez announced her special election campaign on Feb. 16, she said she had already collected $100,000 for the race.

“I am the only candidate who will be able to raise the money that’s necessary,” she said in an interview.

Sanchez was followed by fellow Democrats Shawn Lassiter, an eduction nonprofit leader in Fort Worth, and then Lydia Bean, the Democratic nominee last year against state Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth. Lassiter, who was previously running for the Fort Worth City Council, released a launch video Wednesday morning in which she speaks directly to the camera, inside a powerless home, about the leadership failures that led to the Texas winter weather crisis last week.

A fourth Democratic candidate, Matthew Hinterlong of Dallas, filed FEC papers for the seat later Wednesday.

See here for the background. The Republican side includes Susan Wright, Jake Ellzey, Sery Kim, and the two guys you’ve never heard of, Mike Egan and John Anthony Castro. Multiple others may join in, such as Katrina Pierson, Brian Harrison, Arlington Mayor Jeff Williams, and Manny Ramirez, president of the Fort Worth Police Officers Association. Having that many Republicans in the race eases my fear somewhat about multiple Dems splitting the vote too finely for any of them to make it to a runoff, but it does not alleviate it altogether. As to whether the DCCC or other national groups get involved, I’d be hard pressed to imagine them sitting it out in a D-versus-R runoff, but they may very well keep their powder dry until then. We’ll see how big this field gets.

TEA appeals HISD takeover ruling to Supreme Court

One way or the other, this should get a resolution.

Lawyers representing the Texas Education Agency filed an appeal Wednesday asking the state Supreme Court to overturn a temporary injunction that has slowed Education Commissioner Mike Morath’s plans to strip power from all nine Houston ISD school board members.

The filing comes nearly two months after the Third District Court of Appeals, in a 2-1 decision, ruled that Morath did not follow laws and procedures that would give him the authority to temporarily replace HISD’s school board with a state-appointed board.

TEA pledged in late December 2020 to appeal the ruling to the Texas Supreme Court. If the state’s highest court overturns the injunction, TEA leaders could install a new board that could vote to end HISD’s lawsuit.

[…]

In their filing Wednesday, state lawyers representing the state argued the Third District Court of Appeals erred in its interpretation of laws and regulations on all three fronts. The lawyers also claimed HISD should not be able to sue the state over an administrative matter.

“This case is of immediate importance to HISD students,” Assistant Solicitor General Kyle Highful wrote in the appeal. “And the court of appeals’ misinterpretations of the law endanger TEA’s future efforts to assist failing schools.”

Each of the three issues considered by the Third District Court of Appeals largely fell along technical lines.

See here for the previous update. The ruling in favor of HISD was bipartisan, so this isn’t an R-versus-D issue in the way some other recent lawsuits have been. No idea how long this may take, so just keep on keeping on until we know more.

May 1 special election date set for CD06

Here we go.

Rep. Ron Wright

Gov. Greg Abbott has selected May 1 as the date for the special election to succeed late U.S. Rep. Ron Wright, R-Arlington.

Wright died earlier this month after a yearslong struggle with cancer and testing positive for COVID-19 in January.

The candidate filing deadline for the special election is March 3, and early voting starts April 19.

The special election for the Republican-leaning seat is set to draw a large crowd, and several candidates have already announced or filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission.

On the Republican side, Wright’s wife, Susan Wright, is expected to launch a campaign as soon as this week. She could be joined by a slew of potential GOP contenders including state Rep. Jake Ellzey, R-Waxahachie; Katrina Pierson, the former Trump campaign spokesperson; and Brian Harrison, who was chief of staff at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services under Trump.

Two Democrats have declared their candidacies: Jana Lynne Sanchez, the 2018 Democratic nominee for the seat, and Lydia Bean, last year’s Democratic nominee for state House District 93.

See here, here, here, and here for the background. Note that this is not the same date as for the regular May elections. That was how it was in 2012 when the primaries were moved to May, and how it surely will be next year when we have to have May primaries. If you live in CD06 and also in a city or school district or other jurisdiction that has May-of-odd-year elections, congratulations, you’ll be voting twice – possibly in different locations – this May.

As for the potential candidates, I’ll say this much: I have no preference between Jana Sanchez and Lydia Bean, but having them both in the race greatly decreases the odds that we can get a Democrat into the runoff. According to Texas Elects, Fort Worth educator Shawn Lassiter is also in the race as a Dem, plus three more Republicans you’ve never heard of. We’ve seen this movie before, in Houston City Council At Large races, and we know how it ends. Don’t know that there’s anything to be done other than point that out, but there it is.

Susan Wright appears ready to run in CD06

She’d likely make a strong candidate.

Rep. Ron Wright

Susan Wright, the wife of the late U.S. Rep. Ron Wright, R-Arlington, is getting close to launching a campaign for his seat and could announce her bid as soon as this week, according to two people close to the family who were not authorized to speak on the record about her plans.

Ron Wright died earlier this month after living for years with cancer and testing positive for the coronavirus in January. His funeral was Saturday.

His death triggers a special election in the increasingly competitive 6th Congressional District. Gov. Greg Abbott has not yet scheduled the special election, but it is likely to happen May 1 or sooner.

Susan Wright, who was not immediately available for comment, is a longtime GOP activist who serves on the State Republican Executive Committee. She also contracted COVID-19 recently and was hospitalized, though she was discharged before her husband’s death. She was “by his side” when he died Feb. 7, his campaign said.

[…]

It remains to be seen whether national Democrats will make a serious push in the special election. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which targeted the district last election cycle, is “looking at” competing in the special election, committee chair Sean Patrick Maloney said in a Washington Post interview published last week.

Jana Lynne Sanchez, the Democrat who lost to Ron Wright by 8 points in 2018, has already announced she is running in the special election. Wright’s 2020 challenger, Stephen Daniel, has not ruled out a run. He lost by 9 points in November.

See here, here, and here for the background. I don’t know anything about Susan Wright, but she brings some obvious advantages to the race if she chooses to run. She would also likely discourage other viable Republicans from getting into the race, which would make her path easier. I still think this would be a competitive election, but one in which the Republicans would be favored. I say it’s worth some investment, though I can understand the reluctance to go all in on a relative longshot. Still early days, we’ll see how it goes when the special election date is set.

Jana Sachez will run in CD06

We are now getting some candidate announcements for this forthcoming special election.

Jana Sanchez

A Democrat who previously ran for Texas’ 6th Congressional District is again running for the North Texas seat.

Jana Lynne Sanchez on Tuesday announced her bid for the seat, which spans southeast Tarrant County, including most of Arlington and Mansfield, as well as all of Ellis and Navarro counties.

Sanchez ran for the seat in 2018 against U.S. Rep. Ron Wright, R-Arlington, who won 53% of the votes to Sanchez’s 45%. Wright died this month after battling COVID-19 and lung cancer.

[…]

“Although we didn’t win last time, we moved the district 11 points,” Sanchez said. “We see the district fundamentally changing.”

Sanchez has raised more than $100,000 for her congressional bid, according to her campaign.

See here and here for the background. There are a couple of Republicans who are now in, none of whom I’ve heard of, and there are some other Dems out there who may yet jump in. Sanchez raised $730K in 2018, not a bad total, and is off to a good start here. I have to imagine this race will eventually draw a ton of national money, but doing a good job of that yourself is the best way to make sure the race doesn’t get overlooked. Beto got 48% in 2018, running about two and a half points ahead of Sanchez. I’d call this race Lean Republican to start out, but it has the potential to be quite exciting. Daily Kos has more.

Are people leaving the Republican Party?

Some people are, in at least some states, if you go by voter registration data.

In the days after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, the phone lines and websites of local election officials across the country were jumping: Tens of thousands of Republicans were calling or logging on to switch their party affiliations.

In California, more than 33,000 registered Republicans left the party during the three weeks after the Washington riot. In Pennsylvania, more than 12,000 voters left the G.O.P. in the past month, and more than 10,000 Republicans changed their registration in Arizona.

An analysis of January voting records by The New York Times found that nearly 140,000 Republicans had quit the party in 25 states that had readily available data (19 states do not have registration by party). Voting experts said the data indicated a stronger-than-usual flight from a political party after a presidential election, as well as the potential start of a damaging period for G.O.P. registrations as voters recoil from the Capitol violence and its fallout.

[…]

The biggest spikes in Republicans leaving the party came in the days after Jan. 6, especially in California, where there were 1,020 Republican changes on Jan. 5 — and then 3,243 on Jan. 7. In Arizona, there were 233 Republican changes in the first five days of January, and 3,317 in the next week. Most of the Republicans in these states and others switched to unaffiliated status.

Voter rolls often change after presidential elections, when registrations sometimes shift toward the winner’s party or people update their old affiliations to correspond to their current party preferences, often at a department of motor vehicles. Other states remove inactive voters, deceased voters or those who moved out of state from all parties, and lump those people together with voters who changed their own registrations. Of the 25 states surveyed by The Times, Nevada, Kansas, Utah and Oklahoma had combined such voter list maintenance with registration changes, so their overall totals would not be limited to changes that voters made themselves. Other states may have done so, as well, but did not indicate in their public data.

Among Democrats, 79,000 have left the party since early January.

But the tumult at the Capitol, and the historic unpopularity of former President Donald J. Trump, have made for an intensely fluid period in American politics. Many Republicans denounced the pro-Trump forces that rioted on Jan. 6, and 10 Republican House members voted to impeach Mr. Trump. Sizable numbers of Republicans now say they support key elements of President Biden’s stimulus package; typically, the opposing party is wary if not hostile toward the major policy priorities of a new president.

“Since this is such a highly unusual activity, it probably is indicative of a larger undercurrent that’s happening, where there are other people who are likewise thinking that they no longer feel like they’re part of the Republican Party, but they just haven’t contacted election officials to tell them that they might change their party registration,” said Michael P. McDonald, a professor of political science at the University of Florida. “So this is probably a tip of an iceberg.”

But, he cautioned, it could also be the vocal “never Trump” reality simply coming into focus as Republicans finally took the step of changing their registration, even though they hadn’t supported the president and his party since 2016.

A more detailed case against this thesis is made by G. Elliott Morris, who notes that voter registration is not the same as voter behavior – in states where people register by party, they don’t necessarily vote that way – and that at least some of these former Republicans have changed their affiliation because the establishment GOP didn’t support Trump enough following the election and the insurrection. In other words, some number of these folks aren’t any more likely to vote for a Democrat. Finally, the total numbers here are really small in terms of overall voter registration, well less than one percent. In other words, what we have here looks more like a drip than a stream.

On the other hand, the public now has a very low opinion of the Republican Party and a significantly more favorable view of the Democratic Party. Republicans also have issues with corporate donors, which may be a drag on them at least through 2022. And while President Biden’s current approval ratings are extremely polarized, I note that he’s basically the inverse of Trump with independents, getting 60% of approval there where Trump had 40% at this same point in their presidencies. Who knows where any of this will go from here, but right now, you’d rather be on Team Biden than on his opposition.

None of this applies directly to Texas, since of course we don’t register by party. We measure affiliation by primary voting, so we will have much more limited data until whenever we get to have primaries in 2022. That said, the forthcoming special election in CD06, to fill the seat left vacant by the passing of Rep. Ron Wright, may provide a yardstick as well. Trump carried the district in 2020 by a 51-48 margin, basically the same margin by which Ted Cruz carried it in 2018. Rep. Wright won by a more comfortable 53-44, and Trump won it 54-42 in 2016. A Democratic win in what I presume would be a June runoff would surely be a big deal, while a Republican victory would be seen as evidence that nothing much has changed. It’s super early and we have no candidates yet, so hold onto your hot takes for now.

A few names begin to emerge for CD06

From Daily Kos Elections:

Rep. Ron Wright

A special election will take place later this year to succeed Republican Rep. Ron Wright, who died Sunday after contracting COVID-19, and a few names have already surfaced in both parties as possible special election candidates. Understandably, though, would-be contenders are hesitant to say much so soon after the incumbent’s death.

On the Republican side, Arlington Mayor Jeff Williams said he would think about the race at a later date. Fort Worth City Council member Cary Moon, meanwhile, didn’t directly indicate if he was interested in his communication with the Fort Worth Star Telegram, though he did describe himself as “a business owner with good ties to the district.”

The Dallas Morning News notes that some Republicans may be waiting to see if the congressman’s widow, Susan Wright, runs before deciding what they’d do. The paper also mentions Tarrant County Sheriff Bill Waybourn as a possible contender. Waybourn later put out a statement “asking everyone on behalf of Congressman Wright’s family to refrain from speculating on who might replace such an amazing man – that season is not here yet.”

One Republican who did say he wouldn’t be campaigning here is former Rep. Joe Barton, who represented Texas’ 6th District for 17 terms before leaving office amid a sex scandal in 2018. Barton did, however, take the chance to name state Rep. David Cook and Waxahachie Mayor David Hill as potential candidates for Team Red.

On the Democratic side, 2020 nominee Stephen Daniel said he was thinking about another try. 2018 nominee Jana Lynne Sanchez, who went on to serve as Daniel’s campaign manager, did not address her plans in her statement about Wright’s death, saying, “[W]e can talk about politics later.” The Dallas Morning News also mentioned state Sen. Beverly Powell as a possibility, while Barton speculated that state Rep. Chris Turner “would be a good candidate” for the Democrats.

See here for the background. Both Sen. Powell and Rep. Turner are based in Tarrant County, where the bulk of CD06 is and where Dems took a majority of the vote in that part of the district in 2020. That would be the key to winning a special election, especially a special election runoff. Neither they nor Rep. Cook would risk their own seat in the process, since they would remain in place until and unless they won. It may be early to speak publicly about this seat, but it’s not too early to call around a bit and see what kind of financial support might be available. My guess is that we may start hearing some actual candidate-speak next week, and for sure we’ll hear it once the date for the special election is set.

For what it’s worth, the last special election in Texas to succeed a member of Congress that had died was in 1997. Rep. Frank Tejada of CD28 died on January 30 from pneumonia after having battled brain cancer. The special election to succeed him happened almost immediately, on March 15; Ciro Rodriguez won the runoff four weeks later. Election law was different then, in that there were more uniform election dates, including one in March, which meant the next legal election date following Rep. Tejada’s passing was right there. The lead time for the election was also shorter, since the MOVE Act was not in place then. I expect that this special election will be set for May, the next uniform election date on the calendar, and we’ll need to have an announcement about it in the next couple of weeks.

RIP, Rep. Ron Wright

Condolences to his friends and family.

Rep. Ron Wright

U.S. Rep. Ron Wright, an Arlington Republican, has died.

His campaign staff announced the news Monday. Wright had lived for years with cancer and was diagnosed with COVID-19 in January. He was 67.

“His wife Susan was by his side and he is now in the presence of their Lord and Savior,” the statement said. “Over the past few years, Congressman Wright had kept a rigorous work schedule on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives and at home in Texas’ Congressional District 6 while being treated for cancer. For the previous two weeks, Ron and Susan had been admitted to Baylor Hospital in Dallas after contracting COVID-19.”

Wright was diagnosed with lung cancer in late 2018, per the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. He was previously hospitalized in mid-September.

Wright was in his second term in the U.S. House, but he was no stranger to Congress or local politics. A fan of bow ties, Wright was a fixture in the Tarrant County political scene. In the late 1990s, Wright was a columnist for the Star-Telegram. In 2000, he shifted to the political arena to serve as former U.S. Rep. Joe Barton’s district director and as an at-large member of the Arlington City Council through 2008. From 2004-08, Wright held the post of mayor pro tempore.

[…]

The district is historically Republican, but Democrats made some effort to challenge the district in the last two cycles. Even so, Wright won reelection by a 9-percentage-point margin in 2020.

There will be a special election at some point for this seat, and it should be pretty competitive. CD06 was carried by Trump by a 51-48 margin in 2020; Joe Biden’s performance there closely matches Beto’s 48% in 2018. Trump had won CD06 by a 54-42 margin in 2016, so this was a big shift in the Dem direction, with Tarrant County leading the way. CD06 was low on the Dem target list in 2020, but I expect it to get a lot more attention in 2021. If this develops as a D versus R runoff, look for a lot of money to be spent on it.

That’s for another day. Today we mourn the passing of Rep. Ron Wright. May he rest in peace.

Commissioners Court approves funds for new voting machines

Long awaited.

Commissioners Court on Tuesday unanimously approved a $54 million deal to replace the current eSlate machines with ones featuring touch screens, a paper backup and features that make voting more accessible for seniors and residents with disabilities.

The new machines allow voters to select candidates or ballots measures on a touchpad instead of the rotating wheel, now derided by critics as a clunky feature that some voters mistakenly have used to cast ballots for the wrong candidate.

After voters complete and review their ballots, the machines will print out the selections, at which point voters again can review their ballots for any erroneous choices. They then will take the printed ballots to an electronic ballot box that will record the votes and store the paper ballots, in case the election is called into question and needs to be audited.

“Really, the utility of the paper record is, instead of having to program our machines to spit out receipts, we are getting the record as the voter sees it, into a ballot box that, should we need to count or recount or pull something back later, we can pull it up,” Harris County Elections Administrator Isabel Longoria said Wednesday.

The election results will be stored on two separate hard drives for each voting machine, one of which can only be accessed with a special key provided to Longoria’s office. The new safeguards are expected to provide stronger security than the current system, in which votes are recorded on mobile memory cards that are brought to a central counting site, uploaded onto a computer and tallied.

Longoria also said the new machines may provide faster election results, as votes can only be tallied under the current system using an outdated computer processing software with slower processing speeds than what is widely available today. Harris County election nights have famously stretched well past midnight during previous elections due to the pace of the election results being uploaded.

[…]

Under the contract approved Tuesday, Hart will provide Harris County with 12,000 machines and an assortment of other election equipment, including voting booths and ballot boxes.

Among the other upgrades are what officials say will be a more robust voting system for residents with disabilities. Longoria described the existing setup as “primitive,” in which voters use red and green “paddles,” or buttons, that replace the scrolling wheel and enter button.

“Now you’ll have, essentially, a remote control attached to the machine that has directional arrows and multiple buttons, so that folks with a different kind of physical need will have the same access to voting,” Longoria said.

The elections administrator’s office will receive the first shipment of devices by March 1. Longoria and her staff will start familiarizing themselves with the machines and decide whether to use them for the May 2021 local elections. If they opt to wait, the machines would be in place for the March 2022 primaries.

“The really big deciding factor for me is, how long will it take to train all of our internal staff on these new machines to feel comfortable with them? And then the turnaround time for us to develop those training materials so that we can really safely and fairly train up the different clerks and judges that will have to use these on Election Day,” Longoria said.

See here for my previous update on this topic, here for a Twitter thread from the Election Administrator’s office, and here for their press release. I asked Isabel Longoria some questions about this when I interviewed her, but she was not yet in a position to discuss the details. From what we’ve seen, it sounds like the new machines have everything we’ve been wanting, and it all sounds pretty good to me. Other counties such a Tarrant use the same machines, so we can learn from their experience. It would be nice to have them in place for the May elections, but given that 2021 is an off year for the city, November will be a low-turnout affair that can serve as a test run as well. Either way, I’m looking forward to seeing what our new machines can do.

HD68 special election goes to a runoff

As expected, though there is a clear leader going into the next round.

Sen. Drew Springer

Republicans David Spiller and Craig Carter appear to be headed to a runoff in the special election to fill the seat of former state Rep. Drew Springer, R-Muenster, now a state senator.

With all precincts reporting Saturday night, Spiller — the top fundraiser in the race — had a significant lead, holding 44% of the vote, with Carter taking 18%, according to unofficial results from the Texas Secretary of State. Carter was closely followed by another GOP candidate, John Berry, who trailed Carter by about 60 votes Saturday night. Jason Brinkley, also a Republican, snuck in fourth place, with 16% of the vote. The only Democrat running, Charles D. Gregory, finished last with 4%.

Spiller is an attorney and Jacksboro school board trustee. Carter is a former candidate for an overlapping Texas Senate district.

[…]

Abbott will set a date for the runoff election sometime in February, after the votes are canvassed, according to the secretary of state’s office.

See here and here for the background. Berry, now trailing Carter by 57 votes (unofficially), could ask for a recount once the overseas and provisional ballots are in. Assuming there is no change in who finished second (highly likely things remain as is), there may be some pressure on Carter to concede and allow Spiller to be sworn in now. Spiller got over 700 more votes than the next two candidates combined, so one could argue that there’s not much suspense in the runoff. One could also argue that the first part of this campaign was quiet and uncontentious, and as such there may be some relevant information about these candidates that the voters have not had the chance to learn. Most likely the runoff happens, and Spiller is elected anyway. For now, the House remains at 149 members.

Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price not running for re-election

Here now is the most interesting election for May 2021.

Betsy Price

Betsy Price, the longest serving mayor in Fort Worth’s history, will not seek another term after a decade in office.

Price made the announcement that she wouldn’t run for an unprecedented sixth term Tuesday at City Hall, ending speculation about whether her time leading the city would continue and creating the most contested race for mayor since she ran in 2011. Campaign filing opens Jan. 13.

“You know, serving as mayor has been one of the greatest joys of my life, next to having my children and my grandchildren. It’s been amazing,” Price, slightly choked up, said as she announced she would step aside.

Price, 71, did not immediately say what her future political aspirations might hold, but noted she still has “that Energizer Bunny energy and passion.” She said in the short term she’ll focus on spending time with her family. She also declined to make an endorsement in the May election.

[…]

She served as Tarrant County tax assessor for 10 years before running in 2011 and faced little opposition in following elections. In 2019 she bested Democratic Party Chairwoman Deborah Peoples by 14 points in an election that saw all nine council members reelected. Turnout in Tarrant County was about 9%.

Councilman Jungus Jordan, who has been on the council the longest, watched Price’s speech from the back of the council chamber. Councilmen Dennis Shingleton, Carlos Flores and Cary Moon were also seen at the event.

“I hate to see Betsy go,” Jordan said. “She’s been a great face for our city, even nationally.”

There are a number of potential mayoral candidates.

Tarrant County Democratic Chairwoman Deborah Peoples, 68, was Price’s strongest opponent in 2019. She has said for months she’ll make another bid, but hedged her commitment in a message to the Star-Telegram last week, saying she wanted to meet with her family and campaign team.

Following Price’s announcement Tuesday, Peoples said she would run.

There are other names out there, and you can read the rest for more of that and more on Mayor Price’s career. I don’t know a whole lot about here and have no opinion to offer of her tenure, but I wish her all the best in her next phase.

I am of course interested in this election, for all the obvious reasons. Daily Kos does a lot of the leg work here.

Republican Mayor Betsy Price announced Tuesday that she would not seek a sixth two-year term in the May 1 nonpartisan primary. Price, who is Fort Worth’s longest-serving chief executive, is also one of just two Republicans to lead any of the nation’s 20 largest cities. (The other is Lenny Curry, the mayor of Jacksonville, Florida.) The candidate filing deadline is Feb. 12, so Price’s potential successors will only have a little time to decide what they’ll do. All the contenders will face off on one nonpartisan ballot in May, and a runoff would take place later if no one took a majority of the vote.

Price was decisively elected in 2011 to succeed retiring Democratic Mayor Mike Moncrief, and she won her next three campaigns without any trouble. Politics in Fort Worth’s Tarrant County has been changing over the last few years, though, and Team Blue was encouraged by 2018 victories up and down the ballot. Price faced a serious challenge the following year from Tarrant County Democratic Party Chair Deborah Peoples, and while the incumbent won 56-42, the margin was considerably closer than any of Price’s other re-election campaigns.

The 2020 presidential results give Democrats some reasons for optimism about the race to succeed Price: Joe Biden won Tarrant County by a narrow 49.3-49.1, a showing that made him the first Democrat to carry the county since Texan Lyndon Johnson took it in his 1964 landslide.

Peoples has been preparing for a second campaign for a while, and she confirmed on Tuesday that she was inRepublican City Councilman Brian Byrd also said just before the Price’s announcement that he’d be running if the incumbent didn’t, while his Democratic colleague Ann Zadeh also expressed interest. Attorney Dee Kelly, who called himself a friend of Price’s, also said he’d consider an open seat race, while Democratic state Rep. Ramon Romero also didn’t dismiss the idea on Tuesday. Romero, whose parents emigrated from Mexico, said, “I believe it would be irresponsible for any leader of a community of color across the city to prematurely rule out a run.”

We’ll see who else gets in. Rep. Romero would be an interesting candidate, but he’d almost certainly have to resign to make a serious run at it, and I don’t know that he’ll want to do that. But he might, so stay tuned. An odd year election, especially in May, is a very different dynamic than a Presidential year election, so Tarrant County’s shift doesn’t tell us anything about how Fort Worth, which among other things has less than half the population of Tarrant County. I’d love to see an analysis of how Fort Worth proper voted in 2020 and 2018, but even knowing that, we have to acknowledge the vast differences in turnout conditions. If you’re from Fort Worth and have any thoughts on this, please let us know.

Early voting for HD68 special election starts today

Assume this will go to a runoff.

Sen. Drew Springer

Four Republicans and one Democrat have filed for the special election to replace state Sen.-elect Drew Springer, R-Muenster, in the Texas House.

The filing deadline for the Jan. 23 election was 5 p.m. [last] Monday.

The four GOP candidates for the seat in rural northwest Texas, which is safely Republican, are:

  • John Berry, a Jacksboro financial planner
  • Jason Brinkley, Cooke County judge
  • Craig Carter, a former candidate for overlapping Texas Senate District 30
  • David Spiller, a Jacksboro attorney and Jacksboro school board trustee

The sole Democratic candidate is Charles D. Gregory, a retired postal worker from Childress, according to the secretary of state’s office.

See here for the background. I don’t know anything about any of these candidates, so at this time I have no clue who is worth rooting for, or against. There will be two Republicans in the runoff – the district is way too Republican for any other possibility – so it’s a question of which if any are normal Republicans, and which are the “smear themselves in paint, put on fur and a Viking helmet, and storm the Capitol in an attempt to overthrow the government” type of Republican. If you have any comments on these candidates, please let us know.

Dems go two for two in Georgia

It’s hard to talk about anything else, given the violent debacle in Washington yesterday, but the two Democratic Senate candidates in Georgia won their runoff elections, giving control of the Senate to the Democrats, and putting an emphatic final exclamation point on the Trump regime. I mean, it wouldn’t have taken much from Trump to make the Republican candidates’ lives and elections a lot easier, and he took every opportunity along the way to do the opposite. Maybe, just maybe, the sting of losing these elections and with them the ability to thoroughly block President Biden’s agenda will make Republicans realize that if nothing else, it’s now bad political strategy to defend and coddle Donald Trump. At least some of them are likely savvy enough to acknowledge that.

Let us also tip our hats to the great irony of the legal need for a runoff in Georgia in the first place. Like some other Southern states, Georgia required a majority of the vote to win statewide in November, which is a Jim Crow-era relic designed to make it harder for Black candidates to win. Had Georgia operated like many other states, including Texas, David Perdue would have won in November. To be sure, so would Raphael Warnock have won then, but just splitting the two races would have been enough for Republicans to maintain control of the Senate. I hope that rubs a little extra salt into the wound.

As to what Democrats in other states can learn from this experience, I’d say the best lesson is the constant, in depth, personal organizing, which is a long-term investment. Texas has different demographics than Georgia, though as I have noted, there are parts of the state where the specific approach Stacey Abrams took, of registering and empowering Black voters in rural areas, would likely pay dividends. I’m certainly in favor of asking the leaders of the movements that helped win these elections for their advice, and then listening very carefully.

TEA still barred from taking over HISD

Still in a state of limbo.

Texas is still temporarily barred from taking over Houston Independent School District, a state appellate court ruled Wednesday, upholding a lower court’s order.

In a 2-1 ruling, the Texas Third Court of Appeals upheld a temporary injunction that stops the Texas Education Agency from replacing the elected school board of its largest district with an appointed board of managers. The appeals court ruling sends the case back to the lower court that in January blocked the state’s takeover effort.

The appellate judges said Houston ISD had a “probable right to relief” since the TEA did not follow proper procedure and acted outside its authority as it moved to sanction the district. It also ordered the state to “pay all costs related to this appeal.”

The TEA plans to appeal the ruling to the Texas Supreme Court. “While the Agency is disappointed with the split ruling from the 3rd Court of Appeals, this is only a temporary setback,” the agency said in a statement. “We are confident that the Texas Supreme Court will uphold the Commissioner’s legally-authorized actions to improve the educational outcomes for the 200,000-plus public school students of Houston.”

[…]

[T]he appellate court’s ruling Wednesday said Texas’ “proposed actions are not authorized by the Education Code.” The opinion stated that the state did not have the right to appoint a conservator to oversee the entire school district in 2019, force Houston ISD to suspend its search for a new superintendent, or impose sanctions based on an investigation, among other things.

The opinion was written by Judge Gisela Triana, who was joined by Judge Jeff Rose in the ruling. In a dissenting opinion, Judge Thomas Baker wrote that Texas is authorized to take over Houston ISD, the injunction should be removed and the district’s claims should be dismissed.

See here and here for the background, and here for a copy of the opinion. The Chron story goes into the opinion in some more detail.

To start, HISD’s lawyers argued Wheatley High School did not trigger a state law requiring the school’s closure or the board’s ouster after the Fifth Ward campus received its seventh straight failing grade in 2019. While the law is intended to punish districts with campuses receiving failing grades in multiple consecutive years, the justices found that the TEA failed to take a technical step — ordering HISD to submit a campus turnaround plan for Wheatley — that it says was required under the statute.

The two justices also ruled that the TEA incorrectly interpreted a state law that says Morath can replace the school board in any district that has had a state-appointed conservator for more than two years.

State officials appointed conservator Doris Delaney to oversee long-struggling Kashmere High School in 2016, then clarified that her authority extended to district-level support in 2019. TEA officials argued Delaney’s presence since 2016 met the criteria for triggering the state law, but the two justices ruled that only her time as a district-level conservator counted toward the two-year requirement, which thus hasn’t yet been met.

Finally, the two justices found that TEA officials failed to follow their own procedures related to a special accreditation investigation, which Morath cited as a third reason for replacing HISD’s board.

For what it’s worth, the “affirm” opinion came from a Democratic justice (Triana) and a Republican justice (Rose), while it was a Democratic justice (Baker) who voted to overturn the district court opinion. I don’t know when this might be resolved – the appeal to the Supreme Court is of the injunction, while the case itself was sent back to the district court – but until there is a final ruling that says the TEA can install its Board of Managers, I’m going to operate on the assumption that there will be HISD Trustee elections this year. I guess there would be regardless, but at least for now those elections mean a bit more, since the Board of Trustees is still running things. The Press has more.

HD68 special election set

Welcome to your first election of 2021.

Sen. Drew Springer

Gov. Greg Abbott has selected Jan. 23 as the date of the special election to fill the seat of state Rep. Drew Springer, R-Muenster, who recently won a promotion to the Texas Senate.

The candidate filing deadline is a week away — Jan. 4 — and early voting begins a week after that.

Springer is headed to the upper chamber after winning the Dec. 19 special election runoff to replace Sen. Pat Fallon, R-Prosper, who is on his way to Congress next month.

Springer’s House District 68 is safely Republican. It covers a rural swath wrapping from north of the Dallas-Fort Worth suburbs up into the Panhandle.

At least two Republicans have already announced campaigns for the House seat. They are Jason Brinkley, who is resigning as Cooke County judge to run for the seat, and David Spiller, a Jacksboro attorney and Jacksboro ISD trustee.

The Jan. 23 date means that Springer’s successor could be sworn in early in the 140-day legislative session, which begins Jan. 12. State law gives Abbott the power to order a sped-up special election when a vacancy occurs within 60 days of the session.

See here for the background. “Safe Republican” is almost an understatement – as noted, Ted Cruz got over 83% of the vote in 2018 in HD68. When Springer’s successor could be sworn in is more a function of whether or not there’s a runoff – that’s the difference between a January swearing-in, and one in March. This is the only special legislative election on the docket at this time. That can vary a lot from cycle to cycle – there were multiple special elections and runoffs in 2015 and 2019, none in 2011 and 2017, and one in 2013. The House will move forward with 149 members until this is resolved in HD68.

HISD Board selects a successor for Wanda Adams

Meet Myrna Guidry.

Myrna Guidry

Houston ISD trustees unanimously voted Tuesday to appoint lawyer Myrna Guidry to the board seat vacated last month by Wanda Adams, who represented parts of south Houston.

Trustees considered eight applicants over two days before landing on Guidry, who has operated a private practice focusing on family and probate law for the past two decades. Guidry will fill the final 12 months of the term won by Adams, who resigned from the District IX position following her election as a justice of the peace.

In an interview following the vote, Guidry said the board’s decision left her “ecstatic and over-the-moon.” Guidry is the parent of a high school senior who grew up in HISD, and she has served as a guardian ad litem and family law mediator. She has not been involved in education advocacy prior to her appointment.

“I’m a God-fearing mother of an amazing child, with a wonderful husband, who is trying to do what I can to help the children not only in District IX, but in all of HISD,” Guidry said.

I had forgotten about this. Wanda Adams won the Democratic primary for Justice of the Peace in Precinct 7, and was unopposed in November. (You won’t find her in the election results page for November 2020 on HarrisVotes.com because of this – state law allows for unopposed candidates for county office to be declared the winner prior to November, and thus not need to be on the ballot.) Her term as HISD Trustee is up at the end of 2021, so Guidry will have to run for a full term this November, if HISD is allowed to have trustee elections. As the story notes, it is not clear what the TEA will do about that as part of the takeover, which for now is stalled in court. As for new trustee Guidry, I didn’t find a Facebook page for her, but her LinkedIn profile is here. Welcome to the Board, and I wish you all the best for as long as the Board is allowed to operate.

A few words about election security

Lisa Gray talks to my friend Dan Wallach about everybody’s favorite subject.

If I’m aiming to steal an election, what’s the best way to go about it? Are mail-in ballots the easiest?

If your goal is to steal an election, there are so many different things you could do. Really the question is, are you trying to be stealthy about it? Or are you perfectly OK with making a giant public mess? Because if you don’t mind making a mess, the easiest way to steal an election is to break the voter registration system — to cause long lines, to cause voters to give up and walk away.

But it would be totally obvious if that had happened. And at least as far as we know, it hasn’t happened. The other obvious way that you can break an election is, of course, with misinformation. If you can convince the voters to vote in a way different than they were originally planning — because of a conspiracy theory or whatever — that’s also an excellent way of manipulating the outcome of an election.

Manipulating voting machines in the tabulation process is actually a lot more work, especially if you want to do it subtly. And at least so far, that doesn’t seem to be happening.

Are mail-in ballots inherently less reliable than votes counted on Election Day?

Once we have paper ballots, whether they’re paper ballots that are cast in person, or paper ballots that are returned through the mail, the security of that system is actually pretty good. I’m not as worried about ballot-box stuffing and things like that. The things that concern me more are when you have a system with no paper at all — which, of course, is how we vote here in Harris County.

This is probably the last year that Harris County will be using that electronic paperless voting system. We’ll see.

Probably the place where we’re seeing the most excitement with tight elections now is in Georgia. The state of Georgia used to use a paperless electronic system that would have been relatively straightforward to manipulate, if that was what you wanted to do.

But they’ve replaced it! The whole state of Georgia now votes using a “ballot marking device,” where you touch the screen, select your preferences, and then it prints a paper ballot. As long as Georgia voters actually bother to look at it, and say, “Yep, that’s who I was planning to vote for,” the risk of undetected tampering goes down significantly.

[…]

How should we handle future elections? Those eSlate machines have got to go. But what else, for American elections’ sake, do we need to do?

Let’s start with Harris County. Harris County is using a type of voting machine that they first purchased in the early 2000s. They had a warehouse fire in 2010, so all of our machines are actually quite a bit newer than that, because after the fire, they had to buy new ones.

Those are new versions of ancient tech? My adult kids voted for the first time in Harris County this year, and they were both astounded by what they called “1990s technology.” Those clunky dials! It’s like using a Blackberry in 2020.

It’s exactly like using a Blackberry in 2020. It’s time for these machines to be retired. Our previous county clerk Diane Trautman had said that that was her plan, and she’d started the process — vendors doing dog-and-pony shows, members of the community invited to show up and watch presentations. All of that was in process when COVID hit.

[Trautman resigned because of health problems, and Chris Hollins was an interim replacement.] Now we are going to have an appointed election administrator, Isabel Longoria, who handles voter registration and manages elections. So Longoria is going to be responsible for picking up where this all left off. I don’t know their timeline. I don’t know their plans. But definitely it’s time to move on from the eSlates.

I expect that they will be very interested in having a bigger vote-by-mail solution. The state may or may not make it easier for voters to vote by mail. That’s an unfortunately partisan process, even though it shouldn’t be. All Washington State, Oregon and Colorado vote by mail — 100% of the vote.

But Texas doesn’t believe in no-excuse vote by mail, so I expect that we’re also going to see new voting machines of some kind. Every new voting machine that’s worth buying prints a paper ballot of some sort. That is likely the direction that we’re headed.

There will be pricing issues and cost issues. There will be questions like, Does it support all of the languages that Harris County requires? Does the tabulation system do all the things that we need? Is the vendor going to give us a good price? All that is in play. This is as much about a large government procurement process as it is about voting in particular.

I expect that will all play out next year. They will announce a winner of the procurement, and then we’ll start seeing these new machines used in smaller elections, where there are fewer voters and there’s less attention being paid. In a smaller election, things can go wrong, and it won’t be the end of the world.

Most of this is familiar to us, from the swan song of the eSlate machines to the plans to get new voting machines for the 2021 elections, which will be an off year for city races, thus making it even smaller than usual. I’ll be keeping a close eye on what kind of machines we may get, as this will be the first major task of Isabel Longoria’s tenure as Election Administrator. Lisa and Dan also talk about the exemplary voting experience we had here in Harris County in 2020, which we all hope and expect will be the template going forward. Check it out.

The swan song for eSlate machines

We’re still using them for this election, as clunky and outdated as they are, but they’re on the way out.

Harris County may shatter turnout records with as many as 1.5 million voters in this year’s presidential election, the county clerk estimates.

It also has achieved a less desirable position, however — the county will be the largest jurisdiction in the United States that cannot audit its election results because it uses a voting system that does not produce a paper record.

Of all the paperless votes in the country, about 1 in 5 will be cast here, according to an analysis by the New York University Law School-based Brennan Center for Justice.

“If there’s some reason to cast doubt on the election outcome, there’s nothing independent of the software to turn back to with a paperless system,” said Lawrence Norden, director of the center’s election reform program. “All you can likely do is re-run the results and have the software come up with the same results as the previous time. I don’t think that’s great for voter confidence.”

[…]

Despite warnings from election security experts and an acknowledgment by past Republican and Democratic county clerks that new machines were needed, Harris County failed to follow the state’s other urban counties in doing so before 2020. Texas is one of 14 states that still permits paperless voting systems.

The county since 2002 has used the Hart InterCivic eSlate machine, remembered by many voters by its spinning wheel interface. It records votes on a mobile memory card which then is brought to a central counting site, uploaded onto a computer and tallied.

[…]

Fort Bend County Elections Administrator John Oldham said he decided to make the switch after the Legislature in 2019 nearly passed a ban on paperless machines. Plus, his 13-year-old machines had begun to fail.

“They were having issues with the capacitors on the motherboard burning up,” Oldham said. “The last couple years, we were getting 15 to 20 of these things happening every election.”

Harris County failed to move as quickly, however. Both 2018 candidates for county clerk, Republican Stan Stanart and Democrat Diane Trautman, pledged to replace the aging eSlates.

“We must replace the current electronic machines with a machine that produces a verifiable paper trail,” Trautman said a few days after she won the election.

She initially had hoped to acquire the new machines in time for the 2020 presidential election — Houston even hosted a voting machine trade show this past July — but within months of taking office concluded the timeline was not feasible.

The county last December began soliciting vendor proposals, aiming to debut new machines in the May 2021 elections.

Launching a new voting system in a low-turnout election is wise because it allows county clerks to resolve inevitable problems with a wider margin for error, said Rice University professor of computer science Dan Wallach.

“Otherwise, you’re just inviting new system jitters making a mess when you really, really want smooth sailing,” Wallach said in an email.

At least we know what we’re getting with them. While it’s true that the 2018 candidates for County Clerk made promises that have not yet been fulfilled to replace the eSlates, Stan Stanart was first elected Clerk in 2010, so he could have moved sooner than that. Be that as it may, we’ll get new machines for next year. Expect there to be some serious activity in this department when the new elections administrator comes on board.

So let’s talk about HERO 2.0 again

Surely now is the time.

In November 2015, 61 percent of Houston voters rejected a city ordinance that would have barred employers from discriminating against people based on their sexual orientation and gender identity, a devastating blow for LGBTQ advocates in the nation’s fourth-largest city.

Four and a half years later, two-thirds of the conservative-majority U.S. Supreme Court extended federal workplace protections to gay and transgender employees across the entire country, with Justice Neil Gorsuch — a conservative jurist appointed by President Donald Trump — penning the majority opinion.

The ruling marks a stunning turnaround for LGBTQ Houstonians, who lacked such protections under local, state or federal law before Monday. Still, they remain subject to discrimination in public places, meaning a restaurant owner may no longer discriminate against gay and transgender employees but can refuse service to LGBTQ customers.

Houston’s anti-discrimination measure — branded by supporters as Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance, or HERO, and by opponents as the Bathroom Ordinance — would have applied to employers, housing providers and places of public accommodation. It would have protected 13 classes on top of sexual orientation and gender identity: sex, race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, religion, disability, pregnancy and genetic information, and family, marital or military status.

Supporters of the local anti-discrimination law say they will continue tentative plans to push for a second version of the measure in 2021, the next city election, to ensure the remaining classes and locations are covered. They also say a local ordinance would provide an added layer of protection for members of Houston’s LGBTQ community beyond the Supreme Court ruling.

“It is very clear, if you put it in the context of what’s happening in our country right now, that having de jure employment protections doesn’t mean that the problem is solved,” said Annise Parker, the former Houston mayor and first openly gay mayor of a major American city. “Because, in fact, we’ve had protections around race for a very long time and we still are trying to work hard to dismantle systemic racism. So, it is a big step forward, but there’s still much work to do.”

Houston’s LGBTQ advocacy groups have eyed the 2021 election since their first attempt ended in a resounding defeat. Monday’s court ruling will strengthen their case and their odds of success, contended Austin Davis Ruiz, communications director for the Houston GLBT Political Caucus.

“If you can no longer discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity as it’s decided in this interpretation of the word ‘sex,’ then it should be able to be extended to all these other areas that still lack federal protection,” Ruiz said.

[…]

Alternatively, Houston City Council could pass an anti-discrimination ordinance if Mayor Sylvester Turner were to place it on a meeting agenda and the majority of the 17-person council approved it. Turner, who controls the City Council agenda, did not address that possibility in a statement Monday praising the Supreme Court ruling. Through a spokeswoman, the mayor declined to say whether he thinks the ordinance should go through City Council or the November ballot.

During last year’s mayoral campaign, Turner said he was working with his LGBTQ advisory board to find “opportunities to do more public education” on the issue, but stopped short of saying he would advocate for a ballot measure in 2021.

We were talking about this last November, during the Mayoral runoff. I argued at the time for waiting until 2022, in order to get a better turnout model, but the engagement and outreach strategy is what really matters. Certainly, this could be passed by Council, but there would almost certainly be another referendum to overturn it, so you may as well have the election on your own terms. And despite what happened in 2015, there’s no reason why it couldn’t pass this time. It’s mostly a matter of making sure that Democratic voters vote in favor of a position that is almost universally held by the Democratic politicians those voters vote for. There are a lot of ways this can be accomplished, but the one thing I’d call absolutely vital is organizing and preparing a message strategy for it ahead of time. There’s no better time than now to be doing that.

HISD takes a step towards a bond referendum

Just a step. If there’s to be a bond referendum on the ballot, this year or later, they’ll have to vote again to authorize that.

Houston ISD trustees kept hopes alive for a November bond election during Thursday night’s board meeting, voting to approve spending on a facilities assessment that must be completed before asking residents to provide tax dollars for campus and security upgrades.

Board members voted 6-3 to spend up to $5 million on the assessment, which will document the conditions of HISD’s aging schools, space needs for campuses and demographic trends in the district. District officials said they will use the assessment to guide the creation of any bond proposals, which remain in the early stages of development.

[…]

Trustees and administrators who backed the assessment argued the analysis will provide vital information needed to create an accurate and updated picture of the district’s facilities needs. HISD last commissioned a facilities assessment in 2016, but the work only documented building conditions, with no alignment to academic and space needs.

Three trustees voted against the bond — Judith Cruz, Dani Hernandez and Elizabeth Santos — amid questions about timing of the assessment.

Board members and Lathan have not held extensive discussions about their detailed vision for the district since January, when four new trustees joined the nine-member board.

In addition, public trust in the district has waned over the past two years following extensive in-fighting, as well as the possible ouster of elected trustees due to multiple findings of misconduct by board members and chronically low ratings of Wheatley High School.

“It feels rushed, and I want to make sure we’re doing this the best way possible,” Cruz said.

The vote came after nearly 20 students, parents and educators spoke in favor of rebuilding crumbling schools, describing outdated facilities that disappoint children and scare away prospective families.

See here for some background, and here for a preview story from Thursday, when the vote was taken. The last bond was in 2012, and it’s getting to be time to do some more capital spending. Previous bonds have passed without too much commotion, and even with HISD’s current issues I think they’d be able to get one passed this year, if they do a decent enough job presenting what it would do and get sufficient buy-in from the community. The looming TEA takeover may work in their favor, as I for one have no idea whether a board of managers could or would attempt to authorize a bond, and waiting around for another four or five years seems like a terrible idea. Let’s see what the assessment says and we’ll go from there.

January 2020 campaign finance reports: City of Houston

We’re done with the 2019 Houston election cycle, but there are still things we can learn from the January 2020 campaign finance reports that city of Houston candidates and officeholders have to file. Other finance report posts: My two-part look at the State House was here and here, Harris County offices were here, statewide races were here, and SBOE/State Senate races were here.


Candidate     Raised      Spent     Loan     On Hand
====================================================
Turner       359,567    780,735        0     293,503
Peck           1,075     17,435    5,000          72
Davis          4,000     14,164        0     139,068
Kamin         24,158     93,810        0      18,717
E-Shabazz     14,394     18,965        0       2,145
Martin        14,600     48,754        0     148,989
Thomas        20,263     21,642        0      11,675
Travis         9,850     70,904   21,000      51,484
Cisneros      15,050     44,687        0      24,169
Gallegos      16,850     46,055        0      76,776
Pollard        4,525     25,007   40,000       1,882
C-Tatum       16,250      8,520        0      71,747
Knox           6,900     29,075        0       4,302
Robinson      11,625     82,515        0      40,735
Kubosh        14,770     31,570  276,000      94,540
Plummer       71,168     83,491   21,900      11,068
Alcorn        21,535     76,313        0      16,374
Brown          1,650    102,340   75,000      14,128

Bailey             0      2,400    2,600          70
Jackson       43,845     18,338        0      28,343

Buzbee         1,903    460,888        0      63,531
King          29,925    161,047  420,000      11,567
Parker             0     38,750        0      26,184
Laster             0     12,579        0     162,209
Salhotra      24,010     75,837        0       9,060
Sanchez       40,056     92,678        0      10,636
Edwards          499    109,812        0      89,987

HouStrongPAC       0     10,000        0      51,717

Nominally, this period covers from the 8 day report before the November election (which would be October 27) to the end of the year, but for most of these folks it actually covers the 8 day runoff report to the end of the year, so basically just the month of December. In either case, this is the time when candidates don’t raise much but do spend down their accounts, as part of their GOTV efforts. For those who can run for re-election in 2023, they will have plenty of time to build their treasuries back up.

Mayor Turner will not be running for re-election again, but it’s not hard to imagine some uses for his existing (and future) campaign cash, such as the HERO 2.0 effort or the next round of city bonds. He can also use it to support other candidates – I’m sure he’ll contribute to legislative candidates, if nothing else – or PACs. That’s what former Mayor Parker has done with what remains of her campaign account. Nearly all of the $38,750 she spent this cycle went to the LGBTQ Victory fund, plus a couple of smaller contributionss to Sri Kulkarni, Eliz Markowitz, and one or two other campaigns. Tony Buzbee has restaurant bills to pay, and those endless emails Bill King spams out have to cost something.

Others who have campaign accounts of interest: As we know, Jerry Davis has transferred his city account to his State Rep campaign account. I’ve been assuming Mike Laster is going to run for something for years now. The change to four-year Council terms may have frozen him out of the 2018 election, when he might have run for County Clerk. I could see him challenging a Democratic incumbent in 2022 for one of the countywide offices, maybe County Clerk, maybe County Judge, who knows. It’s always a little uncomfortable to talk about primary challenges, but that’s what happens when there are no more Republicans to knock out.

Other hypothetical political futures: Dave Martin could make a run for HD129 in 2022 or 2024, or he could try to win (or win back) Commissioners Court Precinct 3 in 2024. If Sen. Carol Alvarado takes my advice and runs for Mayor in 2023, then maybe State Rep. Christina Morales will run to succeed her in SD06. If that happens, Robert Gallegos would be in a strong position to succeed Morales in HD145. Michael Kubosh wasn’t on my list of potential Mayoral candidates in 2023, but maybe that was a failure of imagination on my part. As for Orlando Sanchez, well, we know he’s going to run for something again, right?

You may be wondering, as I was, what’s in Amanda Edwards’ finance report. Her activity is from July 1, since she wasn’t in a city race and thus had no 30-day or 8-day report to file. Her single biggest expenditure was $27K to Houston Civic Events for an event expense, and there were multiple expenditures categorized as “Loan Repayment/Reimbusement” to various people. Perhaps she has transferred the balance of her account to her Senate campaign by this time, I didn’t check.

Most of the unsuccessful candidates’ reports were not interesting to me, but I did want to include Raj Salhotra here because I feel reasonably confident that he’ll be on another ballot in the short-term future. The HISD and HCC Boards of Trustees are both places I could see him turn to.

Last but not least, the Keep Houston Strong PAC, whose treasurer is former Mayor Bill White, gave $10K to Move to the Future PAC. That’s all I know about that.

County to seek new voting machines

About time.

Diane Trautman

Harris County Commissioners Court on Tuesday unanimously approved County Clerk Diane Trautman’s plan to seek vendor proposals for new voting machines.

The clerk’s office plans to issue a request for proposal for a new voting system this month. An evaluation committee composed of county government officials will vet proposals and recommend a model by August 2020, according to a timeline Trautman provided.

“We did establish a community advisory community and met with them, and we received written and online feedback,” Trautman said. “We also had an election machine vendor fair where the community came out … the next step is to start the RFP process.”

The clerk’s office plans to purchase the new machines by the end of 2020.

After training election judges and staging demonstrations for the public, Trautman plans to debut the devices in the May 2021 elections. Trautman initially had explored the idea of buying new machines in time for the November 2020 general election, which could see a record number of voters because it is a presidential year, but concluded that timeline was not feasible.

Rolling out the machines in a low-turnout election would allow elections officials to more easily address any problems that arise, she said.

[…]

County Judge Lina Hidalgo urged Trautman to look for ways to decrease wait times at polling sites in the 2020 general election. Since the Legislature eliminated straight-ticket voting after the 2018 election, a time-saving method 76 percent of Harris County voters used that November, officials across the state worry future elections would feature long lines to cast ballots.

“I just want to reiterate my commitment to you to support work to make those lines shorter and fast, and anything we need to do for these 2020 elections, given that we still use these old voting machines,” Hidalgo said.

Security, ease of use, and some form of paper receipt should be the top priorities. Look to Travis County for some ideas – as with voting centers, having Michael Winn on staff will surely help with that. Those voting centers are intended to help with the long lines – having extended hours and more locations during early voting helps, too – and maybe we could remind some folks that they have the ability to vote by mail, too. I’m very much looking forward to seeing the vendor proposals.

HERO 2.0

I’ve been waiting for this, though in reading this story I’d argue we should wait just a little bit more.

Houston’s two mayoral candidates say they support expanded anti-discrimination protections for the LGBTQ community, but would leave it to voters to pursue a revived version of the measure that was roundly defeated at the ballot box four years ago.

Outside groups, meanwhile, already are readying for a redux of the high-profile and vitriolic fight over the so-called HERO measure.

Mayor Sylvester Turner supported the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance in 2015 but has not advocated for revisiting it during his first term. On Tuesday, he acknowledged that “community-driven efforts are underway” and that he is working with his LGBTQ advisory board to find “opportunities to do more public education,” though he did not say he would advocate for a ballot measure in 2021.

He previously has said that groups need to focus on outreach and grass-roots campaigning.

“It’s important to educate people, because if you put something up, let’s say right now, and it goes down again, it just sets us back,” Turner said in August. “So, let’s educate, let’s continue to work with the LGBTQ Advisory Committee which I put in place, and let’s work with other organizations, and then we can move forward.”

[…]

Harrison Guy, chair of the mayor’s LGBTQ advisory board, said the 2015 defeat forced advocates to overhaul their approach to organizing, particularly in a city as diverse and geographically spread-out as Houston.

“It was a pretty big mountain to climb when we were honest about why HERO wasn’t a success,” he said Tuesday.

Since then, he said, groups have focused on in-person outreach to “soften hearts,” and readied for a potential, 2021 rematch.

“It’s tedious, slow and strategic, which isn’t sexy,” Guy said.

He said he is fine with Turner taking a backseat on the issue.

“The fight cannot belong to one group or one person,” Guy said. “It can’t belong to the mayor. The coalition needs to be really broad and really big.”

[Former Mayor Annise] Parker agreed with the grass-roots tactic, but warned that “if the mayor doesn’t want it to move, it’s not going to move.”

Tony Buzbee was quoted in the story saying he supported a watered-down HERO that would “[prohibit] discrimination by employers and housing providers, but would oppose expanding the measure to apply to places of public accommodation, including public restrooms”. Of course, he has also said that he would support a HERO that included public accommodation, and he has promised Steve Hotze that he would oppose any effort to pass a new HERO, so you can’t believe a word he says.

As I said, I have been waiting for this, I fully support this, and I agree that this is the right approach to trying again. My one hesitation is in putting HERO 2.0 on the 2021 ballot. There are no city elections in 2021, just HISD and HCC Trustee races, and who even knows how much anyone will care about the HISD races at that time. That means that basically all of the turnout for such an election will come from the campaigns for this measure, and we saw what happened with that in 2015. My suggestion would be to wait and have it in 2022, when at least the baseline will be higher, overall more Democratic, and will include more young voters. It’s true that plenty of Democratic voters voted to repeal HERO in 2015, but that’s a problem that the new outreach strategy needs to solve. If that hasn’t been successful then we could hold the vote on a Sunday afternoon in July and it won’t make any difference. Engage with the Democratic base, move the needle with voters who should be on our side since they very much support politicians who support what’s in HERO, and then schedule the election at a time when many of these people would be voting anyway.

(You may ask “why not go all the way turnout-wise and do it in 2020?” One, that may not be enough time for the engagement project to work, and two, the 2020 election is not two full years after the 2018 election, when Prop B passed, so by charter it’s too soon. Right idea, but not feasible under the conditions we have.)

Anyway. I’ll want to know a lot more about the engagement strategy – who the public faces of it are, what the funding model is, what the message will be, etc etc etc – but it’s a step in the right direction. And whether we do this in 2021 or wait till 2022 as I would prefer, there’s no time to lose. Campos has more.

Harris County goes shopping for new voting machines

It’s time.

Diane Trautman

Harris County formally has begun searching for a new voting machine model with the aim of debuting the devices in a 2021 election, County Clerk Diane Trautman announced Tuesday.

Speaking at the International Association of Government Officials trade show in downtown Houston, Trautman said the county plans to select a vendor for new voting machines by next July. She estimated the cost of purchasing about 5,000 machines would be $74 million.

“One of the issues that I campaigned on was making the election process simpler and more convenient, and more trustworthy,” Trautman said. She added, “Now it is time to address making the voting process more trustworthy by replacing our outdated voting machines.”

Trautman said replacing the current machines, some of which are 20 years old, is an important next step after her administration debuted countywide voting centers in May. Harris County awaits approval from the secretary of state to expand the system, which allows voters to cast ballots at any location, regardless of their assigned precincts.

The clerk’s office plans to form a community advisory group in the fall and issue a request for proposals to vendors in January. A voting selection committee comprised of election workers and staff from the county universal services and purchasing departments will help choose two voting machines as finalists in March.

John Coby was at that trade show as well, and he’s got some pictures if you want to see what Trautman et al were looking at. The goal is to have the new machines in place for the 2021 election, which will provide a nice lower-turnout environment for a shakedown cruise. The head voting honcho at the Clerk’s office is Michael Winn, who came over from Travis County, where they replaced their voting machines a few years ago and have been doing some design work for the next generation of them. Look for some of those features, which will include a printed receipt, as we go forward.