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Election 2023

A too-early look at who’s running for Houston city offices in 2023

Because it’s never not election season.

With the midterm elections behind us, city election season is now heating up. Next November, Houston will elect a new mayor, a new controller and 16 City Council members.

The campaigns actually got underway long before the midterm elections were over. State Sen. John Whitmire, the longest serving member of the Texas Senate, announced his plans to run for mayor way back in November 2021. Chris Hollins, the former Harris County clerk, announced in February, and former City Councilmember Amanda Edwards launched her campaign in March.

Those announcements, and the millions of dollars the mayoral candidates collectively have raised for their bids so far, have set Houston off on its earliest start to campaign season to date.

As the candidates start making more public appearances and vying for voters’ attention, here’s your early primer on city elections, and who is running so far:

[…]

Mayor Sylvester Turner is serving out his second and final term, which means Houston will elect a new mayor in 2023. Voters also will decide 16 spots on City Council — 11 members representing geographic districts, and five members elected citywide in at-large seats — to round out the City Hall horseshoe.

City Controller Chris Brown also is term-limited, meaning the city will have a new controller as well. The controller is the city’s independently elected financial watchdog.

Six council members face term limits, meaning their seats will be open. Ten council members are eligible for re-election and presumably running.

They have a list of the Council members who are not term-limited, as well as a list of people who claim they are running for something at this time. We’ll get some idea of who is serious and who is just a name when the January finance reports come out. From past experience, nothing is truly set in stone until the filing deadline, and we’re a long way away from that.

One more name that is out there as a potential Mayoral candidate is former Metro chair Gilbert Garcia. Don’t be surprised to hear of other names, though at this point it’s not very likely there will be any more high-profile names.

The incumbent Council members who are term limited include Dave Martin (District E), Karla Cisneros (H), Robert Gallegos (I), Mike Knox (At Large #1), David Robinson (AL #2), and Michael Kubosh (AL #3). I expect there to be a lot of At Large candidates, assuming At Large seats are still a thing next November.

There are also races for HISD and HCC boards of trustees. In HISD, Kathy Blueford-Daniels (District II), Dani Hernandez (III), Patricia Allen (IV), and Judith Cruz (VIII) are up for re-election. In HCC, the candidates whose terms are up are Reagan Flowers (Distrct 4), Robert Glaser (5), and Pretta VanDible Stallworth (9). Glaser is under accusation of sexual harassment, and as such I have to think there’s a decent chance he’ll choose not to run again. That is 100% fact-free speculation on my part, so take it for what it’s worth.

This is the situation as it stands now. As I said, we’ll know more when we see the January finance reports. If you know of someone not listed in the Chron story who’s running for something next year, please let us know in the comments.

HISD redistricting is on the docket

Already happening, in fact.

Current districts

Houston ISD plans to redraw the boundary lines for its nine school board trustees based on population changes reflected in the latest U.S. Census.

HISD officials emphasized that the changes only impact voting, not what schools children are zoned to. The district is required to adjust those boundaries when the U.S. Census reflects a significant population shift.

The board presented two plans, which are fairly similar, and aim to decide by mid-December. Both aim to return each district to within 10 percent of a predetermined ideal size of about 164,000 people.

District VII, represented by Bridget Wade and spanning from River Oaks to Briarmeadow in west Houston, has seen the most growth, so it will be redrawn.

That district also saw growth 10 years ago, the last time the Census was done. However, the growth wasn’t considered significant enough to warrant being restructured. District I, which represented the north side, and District IX, the south, were the only two to be restructured 10 years ago after the last Census.

On the flip side, this year’s Census data showed that District III in southeast Houston shrank. Dani Hernandez represents that district.

It’s difficult to adjust just one or two districts, said Sydney Falk, an attorney of Bickerstaff Heath Delgado and Acosta LLP, an Austin-based law firm that did the analysis.

“It’s a ripple effect,” Falk said. “As soon as you touch one, you need to adjust the others.”

He added that all the changes were relatively minor. Districts I, III, IV, VII and VIII will all be restructured. Districts II, V, VI, IX generally won’t change.

I couldn’t find anything about the proposed plans on the HISD website, but I’m sure something will appear sooner or later. There are some community meetings happening if you want to discuss the matter; I’m sure the proposed maps will be present at these.

HISD did a small redistricting in 2011 as noted, and then had to do it again in 2014 after the annexation of North Forest ISD. I expect the process to be pretty peaceful and straightforward this time around.

And if you’re wondering if HCC will go through a similar process, the answer is Yes, they will, and they are.

The Houston Community College Board of Trustees is conducting a once-per-decade redistricting process to better align HCC districts based on equitable population distribution.

The board is considering redistricting options at meetings over the next several months. Options currently under consideration are available for the public to comment on and review at an HCC information web page on redistricting located at www.hccs.edu/about-hcc/board-of-trustees/hcc-redistricting-information.

Community residents can review proposed maps and provide map suggestions via a redistricting form at the web page or by emailing [email protected] All submitters must provide their full name, home address, a phone number and, if available, an email address.

“Redistricting is the process by which the boundaries of elective single-member districts are periodically redrawn in response to changes in population,” said Board Chair Dr. Cynthia Lenton-Gary. “We encourage members of the public to visit this site for information and updates concerning redistricting and the proposed maps we will be reviewing.”

Districts are determined based upon U.S. Census data. If population numbers show that a single-member district exceeds the population of the least populated, single-member district by more than 10 percent, the district map must be re-drawn. The goal is to ensure that each single-member district consists of near equal population across the system.

That was posted on October 10; I trust you’ll forgive me for not having that at the forefront of my mind at the time. Their index page for redistricting has all the information you could want. Current and proposed maps are here – not surprisingly, they all look very similar – and the timeline tab indicates they plan to adopt a map next April. Like I said, all the info is there for you to see.

Commissioner-elect Briones

Good story.

Lesley Briones

Yes, Lesley Briones secured a victory that handed Democrats a stall-proof majority on Harris County Commissioners Court.

And yes, she upset Republican Commissioner Jack Cagle in a precinct where he has won reelection every cycle since 2011, beating the incumbent by about 3 points when polling in the week before the election marked Cagle with a firm lead in the race.

It’s also true that Briones’ election to office marks the first instance in its 145-year history that two women have served on Harris County Commissioners Court at the same time. It should also be noted that her presence adds a third representative with Latin American heritage to the five-member body in a county where Latinos make up the largest racial demographic group and have been growing every year since 2010.

But Briones maintains that the circumstances and implications surrounding her victory will not color her decisions as she prepares to assume her role as Harris County’s newly elected Precinct 4 Commissioner. A former Harris County Civil Court Judge who graduated from Harvard and went to law school at Yale, told Chron that she plans to approach her role as commissioner “just the way I did in court.”

“In my court, I wear a black robe, not a blue robe, not a red robe or any other color. And I listen to both sides of a case, or all sides if there are multiple parties. And I listened to the evidence and made my rulings in the fairest way possible,” Briones said.

“I am a proud lifelong Democrat, but it’s beyond partisanship,” said Briones. “It’s about being Americans, being Houstonians, being Texans. It’s about fixing potholes, improving parks, maintaining ditches. It’s about making sure we have the number of law enforcement officers we have,” she added.

Looking back at her and Democratic Judge Lina Hidalgo’s re-election victories, Briones said that “when people box themselves into corners, if it’s hyperpartisanship or polarization or however you want to frame it, it wasn’t serving people, and things weren’t getting done.”

First, that was the same poll that had claimed Judge Hidalgo was losing in her race; it underestimated her support by six points. To be fair, that poll showed a lot of undecided voters and noted that they came primarily from demographics that would favor Democrats. I’m just noting this all for the record, so we can examine the polls of 2024 more carefully.

I like the subtlety with which Commissioner-elect Briones calls out her vanquished opponent for his quorum busting – there’s more later in the story – which she had taken the opportunity to attack as it was happening in the latter stages of the campaign. I have no idea if this had an effect on the outcome – we don’t have any data on that – but as the victor one gets to write the narrative. Seems like a pretty good way to start telling the story of her tenure.

Finally, given that we will be talking a lot about Latino representation on Houston City Council in the coming year, not to mention the promised lawsuit to get rid of the At Large Council seats, it’s worthwhile to compare Harris County to Houston and note the disparity in their governing bodies. I will note that County Commissioner races are a lot more expensive than At Large City Council races, and that Briones won in a district that was not specifically drawn to elect a Latino. She had to defeat a diverse slate of opponents in her primary to get onto the November ballot. To be sure, she’s running in a partisan race, which can be (but isn’t necessarily) a boost to one’s fundraising prospects. She’s also running in an even-numbered year, which as we’ve discussed before in the City Council context means much higher turnout and thus a more diverse electorate than our odd-year municipal elections. If we had city elections in even-numbered years, we would almost certainly have a different-looking City Council. There are good reasons to not want to have those elections in even years, I’m just saying it’s another option, and something to keep in mind as we have this longer conversation in 2023. Campos has more.

Election 2022 miscellania: Marijuana, Austin Mayor, CRT

Three items of interest for you. First up, several local initiatives to decriminalize marijuana were successful on Tuesday.

By the end of Election Day, five Texas cities have voted to decriminalize low-level marijuana possession.

After Austin voters overwhelmingly approved the proposition to decriminalize carrying small amounts of marijuana in May, Ground Game Texas — the progressive group behind that effort — successfully worked with local organizations and pushed for similar measures to appear on the ballots of Denton, San Marcos, Killeen, Elgin and Harker Heights for the midterms cycle.

Voters in these cities have now shown strong support for the proposals at the polls.

The campaign saw the highest level of support in San Marcos — home to Texas State University — with nearly 82% of the votes. Denton, which has several university campuses, saw more than 70% of the votes backing the proposition.

In Killeen, known for its proximity to military base Fort Hood, close to 70% of voters approved the proposition. Elgin, just outside of Austin, saw almost 75% of votes in support of the reform. And on the low end, more than 60% of voters in Harker Heights in Bell County casted ballots in favor of decriminalizing marijuana.

“These meaningful reforms will keep people out of jail and save scarce public resources for more important public safety needs,” said Mike Siegel, political director of Ground Game Texas and a former Democrat congressional candidate. “We’re extremely happy with our results.”

Like Austin’s ordinance, the successful propositions establish city ordinances that end low-level enforcement, including citations and arrests for possessing less than four ounces of marijuana and related drug paraphernalia, in most cases. They also largely ban using city funds and staff to test substances for THC, the cannabis plant’s chemical that gets users high.

[…]

Ultimately, Ground Game Texas hoped to use the campaign to boost turnout, especially among young voters.

“We wanted to use workers, wages and weed to engage new voters,” Siegel said.

Looking ahead, Ground Game Texas will continue working with on-the-ground groups to place progressive measures on local ballots. They aim to put the measure along with several other propositions, including abortion decriminalization, in front of San Antonio voters in May 2023. And similar efforts are likely to pop up in other big cities like Dallas, Fort Worth and Houston in the 2024 elections, Siegel added.

“We’re hoping that we can prove not only that these issues are popular, but they also boosted turnout in the communities that are on the ballot,” he said. “And in the days following this election, we’re going to be having lots of conversations with folks about the next cycle.”

See here for some background. As noted there, I’m not sure what the practical effect of this will be, and I worry about legislative backlash just because that’s the world we live in now. I’ll be very interested to see if there is any evidence that this drove turnout, because Lord knows we could have used more of it if it did. And while I’m glad to see that there’s interest in bringing this to Houston, please remember that we already have several charter amendments on the ballot next year, which means either this would have to happen then or you’ll need to wait until at least 2025, since there’s a mandatory two-year wait after a successful charter amendment election. Hope y’all are already engaging with folks here about this, Ground Game Texas, so there are no unpleasant surprises for anyone.

Item two: There will be a runoff for Mayor of Austin between two familiar faces.

Austin’s next mayor was not decided Tuesday, as a tight race between Celia Israel and Kirk Watson will continue into a runoff in December.

To win the race outright, a candidate would have had to earn more than half of all votes as of Tuesday. Israel took 40% and Watson 35% of the vote, according to final but unofficial results. They were separated by more than 15,000 votes.

Jennifer Virden, the only other candidate who conducted a significant campaign, earned 18%.

Three other candidates received limited support. Phil Brual received 2%, and Gary Spellman and Anthony Bradshaw each received 1%.

In total, 304,000 votes were recorded.

Heading into the day, political insiders who analyzed the election said they expected the race to go to a runoff, as voters seemed split between Watson, the former Austin mayor and state senator, and Israel, a sitting state representative. Although Watson outraised Israel $1.3 million to $409,000, it was Israel who enjoyed momentum heading into Tuesday with recent endorsements from the American-Statesman and the Austin Chronicle.

I don’t have a dog in this fight. I like both of them and wish the eventual winner all the best.

And finally, a small bit of good news on the school board hysteria front:

A very welcome reversal from last year, in a different political climate. Well done, Round Rock and Leander.

Houston City Council approves its new map

Now we wait for the lawsuit(s).

City Council on Wednesday approved new boundaries for the city’s 11 districts for the 2023 elections, featuring modest adjustments affecting parts of downtown, Braeburn, Greater Inwood and a few areas in southeast Houston.

The new boundaries aim to balance district populations based on the latest census data.

By law, the most populous district should not have more than 10 percent more residents than the smallest district. Based on the 2020 census, Districts C and G need to give up some neighborhoods. Districts H, I and J, on the other hand, have lost too many constituents and need to expand. Overall, fewer than 3 percent of the Houston’s 2.3 million residents will change districts.

The redistricting plan had gone through several iterations based on months of internal discussions and public feedback. On Wednesday, four council members also offered amendments to the proposal, three of which were successful.

Despite the majority support for the new maps, council had to vote twice to approve them after it was revealed late Wednesday that the city secretary called out the wrong agenda item before the council voted during the morning session.

The council reconvened at 6 p.m. for a public hearing on a proposed bond election. Following the hearing, which drew no speakers, the council confirmed the new maps by a 14-2 vote, with District I Councilmember Robert Gallegos and District E Councilmember Dave Martin dissenting.

[…]

City Demographer Jerry Wood said throughout the design process he had to juggle competing interests from council members and the public and was unable to accommodate some requests.

“If you go into this thinking that you’re going to make everybody happy, you’re going to be sorry for thinking that,” Wood said. “If you go into this thinking that you’re going to make as few people unhappy as possible, then you might have some success.”

See here for some background. The map I’ve embedded is from the early part of the process and doesn’t include any of the changes made at that Council meeting, so go here for the latest details. CM Gallegos has some issues with the process and with an amendment that affected District I; the story did not say why CM Martin voted no. Overall, this was pretty painless, certainly easier than it was in 2011 when we had to add two new districts. That doesn’t mean there won’t be legal issues:

Much of the discussion around redistricting has centered on the lack of Hispanic representation at City Hall.

While about 45 percent of Houston residents are Hispanic, Gallegos of District I is the only Hispanic council member out of the 16, even though the city previously created two other Hispanic-opportunity districts, H and J.

The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), one of the largest Hispanic civil rights organizations in the country, has promised to sue the city over what its advocates characterize as a gross underrepresentation of Latinos on the council.

The goal of the lawsuit is to replace the city’s five at-large seats, which represent voters citywide, with single-member seats, which cover a certain geographical area, to improve minority representation.

The city has hired a law firm in anticipation of the legal challenge.

“We are asking for equity and fairness, and we just don’t have that with the current districts,” said Sergio Lira, a Houston-based leader with the organization. “That’s why we are filing the lawsuit to push for changes.”

Some are worried that Kamin’s amendment could have an adverse effect on Hispanic votes.

The areas set to move to District H instead of Freedmen’s Town, have high percentages of Hispanic constituents, but are experiencing gentrification and are expected to see a decline in Hispanic populations in the following years, according to Wood.

Gallegos said that he did not originally agree with LULAC’s demand to abolish Houston’s at-large seats, but in light of these new developments, he plans to work closely with the organization to advance its cause.

“After what happened this morning, I agree that we need all single-member districts to make sure that we have the representation we need,” he said.

See here for some background. I don’t have anything to add to what I wrote then. I think the plaintiffs would have a decent chance of prevailing if they file, but it’s not a slam dunk. An alternate possible outcome would be to agree to move City Council elections to even-numbered years, as the natural boost in turnout would create a more diverse electorate and thus could raise the chances of Latino candidates in citywide races. That was one of the things that happened in Austin, in addition to the switch to districts from At Large; their elections had been in May of odd years, for maximal non-turnout. Greg Wythe wrote on this topic some years ago at his sadly defunct blog, and it’s stuck with me ever since. There are good reasons to keep city elections in the odd years – Lord knows, we have enough to vote on in the even years, and putting them in the even years would very likely make them more overtly partisan – I’m just saying it’s a possible option. We’ll see what happens.

We could maybe vote on a piece of the stupid revenue cap next year

Yippie.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner said Wednesday he will ask voters in 2023 to amend the city’s cap on property tax revenue to allow for more public safety spending, as the council cut the city’s tax rate for the eighth time in nine years to get under that limit.

Turner said he would bring language to City Council shortly to put the measure on the November 2023 ballot, after At-Large Councilmember Michael Kubosh expressed concern about how the city will be able to afford the increasing police and fire budgets with strained resources.

“If there is strong sentiment on this council to at least allow the voters to decide, well, let’s put it this way: I’m willing to put it before you and then allow the voters to make that decision,” Turner said. “I will put it before you to be placed on the November ballot of next year.”

City Council voted unanimously to cut its property tax rate by about 3 percent, moving from 55.08 cents to 53.36 cents per $100 in valuation. The city accounts for about 20 to 25 percent of a standard Houston property tax bill, with about half going to the local school district.

The city’s cap on property taxes limits the growth in revenue to a formula that combines inflation and population increases, or 4.5 percent, whichever is lower. The city hit the former mark this year, as is standard.

Houston first hit the cap in the 2015 fiscal year, and its tax rate since has fallen about 16 percent, down from 63.88 cents per $100. The city has missed out on about $1.5 billion in revenue as a result of those cuts, according to Turner’s administration. The owner of the median Houston home in that time has saved about $946, or about $105 per year.

[…]

Voters tweaked the cap in 2006 to allow the city to raise an additional $90 million in revenue for public safety spending. It was not immediately clear whether the ballot language Turner is proposing would increase that number or seek to carve out public safety spending entirely. The police and fire departments account for $1.5 billion in spending in the city’s current budget.

You know how I feel about revenue caps. At least this will give all those who rail against “defunding the police” the opportunity to put their money where their mouths are. I expect there will be at least one lawsuit filed over this regardless, and given what we’ve seen with other litigation it will still be ongoing in 2033.

On resign to run

The TL;dr version of this is “No one ever said the Elections Code was fair”.

John Whitmire’s plans have been clear since November: He is running for re-election to the state Senate, and he also is running for mayor.

If all goes according to his plan, Whitmire will serve out his final legislative session in the Senate in 2023, turn his attention to campaigning for City Hall in the summer and win a new job in November or December.

City officials in Houston, though, do not have the same luxury, and it is creating political hurdles this year for ambitious council members looking for new jobs — especially those that may want to take City Hall’s top office.

Texas has a resign-to-run law meant to discourage officials from holding one office while running for another. The law dates back to a 1958 constitutional amendment, purportedly aimed at ensuring elected officials concentrate their attention on the job they already have and do not run campaigns while on the taxpayers’ dime.

The state applies the rule only to certain county and city officials, though, and not to those who serve in Austin. That is why Whitmire can, essentially, run for two jobs at the same time. Legislators have run for just about every job in the state while keeping their posts.

Lawmakers have amended the constitutional provision underlying the rule several times over the last couple decades. None of those changes added state officials to the mix.

“They never applied the logic to themselves,” said Nancy Sims, a longtime political consultant who now teaches at the University of Houston.

The story notes that this has only been an issue for Houston City Council members since 2016, following the referendum that altered the term limits ordinance and changing Council terms from two years to four. It also notices the outlier fundraising of CM Ed Pollard, who if he is a Mayoral candidate would have to step down. I confess, I had forgotten about the new application of resign-to-run in discussing Pollard’s potential plans; it is certainly more complicated for him now. Maybe he’ll keep piling up the cash and then challenge whoever gets elected next year in 2027, when he’d only be giving up the last year or so of his second term. I’m just speculating wildly here. Anyway, the state constitution specifies who has to resign to run for something else and who doesn’t, it’s highly unlikely that will ever change to apply to legislators, and that’s just the way it is.

Dallas joins the abortion decriminalization queue

Good for them.

The Dallas City Council could consider a resolution in August aimed at blunting the impact of the Texas Legislature’s trigger law that will go into effect following the Supreme Court’s decision that overturned Roe vs. Wade.

Dallas’ measure would direct city staff—which includes the Dallas Police Department—to make investigating and prosecuting accusations of abortion “the lowest priority for enforcement” and instructs City Manager T.C. Broadnax to not use “city resources, including … funds, personnel, or hardware” to create records regarding individual pregnancy outcomes, provide information about pregnancy outcomes to any agency, or to investigate whether an abortion has occurred, a draft copy of the resolution obtained by D reads.

“I would say that it technically really does accomplish the decriminalization here locally,” said Dallas City Councilman Adam Bazaldua, who worked on the resolution and chairs the committee that will consider the matter before it goes to the full Council. “Being the lowest priority, … there’s not much of an investigation that could be done if there’s no resources that are able to be allocated.”

The measure does not apply to instances where law enforcement officials might need to investigate cases of criminal negligence by a practitioner in the care of a pregnant person, or where force or coercion is used against a pregnant person.

The resolution will be introduced in a special-called meeting of the council’s Quality of Life, Arts, and Culture Committee Tuesday. If approved by the committee, he aims to have it before the full Council at its Aug. 10 meeting. If it passes, Dallas would join many cities that have sought restrictions with similar resolutions, including Denton, Waco, and Austin. The San Antonio City Council will vote on its resolution Tuesday.

Yes, Denton and Waco. You knew about San Antonio and Austin, now you can add these three to the list.

Bazaldua said he knows the city can do little about the law itself, but he hopes this resolution would provide a measure of protection for healthcare providers who could face felony charges if suspected of providing an abortion. Pregnant people would also have similar protections, he said.

“There’s only so much that can be done at the local level and this is about as much as we can get,” he said, adding that after the resolution is passed, ideally the city would begin working with nonprofit and private-sector partners to help people locate resources if they need to travel to another state for an abortion.

He also doesn’t see this resolution endangering the city when it comes to another recently passed law that would penalize cities that “defund” their police departments. He argues that funding isn’t being reduced.

“What can they do? Punish a city for saying this should not be a priority of ours?” he said. “When we have violent crime that’s going on, that we should be focusing our resources and funding on?”

I mean, I wouldn’t put anything past Ken Paxton or the forced-birth fanatics in the Lege, but on its face that’s a strong argument. It’s also consistent with the earlier advice we saw about what cities can do on their end. I don’t know how this will play out – I cannot overemphasize how much effect the November elections could have in blunting the worst possible effects of the new anti-abortion laws and preventing the creation of new ones – but it feels good to do something, even if it may be transient. One has to wonder when there will be some action in Houston on this front. Is there a campaign going on about this that I haven’t seen yet?

San Antonio will make its statement for abortion rights

More symbolic than anything, but it still has meaning.

Five San Antonio City Council members and the mayor stood in support of a largely symbolic measure Wednesday that would attempt to “decriminalize” abortion locally.

Council is expected to approve a resolution during a special meeting called for Tuesday that would essentially condemn Texas’ abortion ban and recommend that no local funds be used to investigate criminal charges related to the ban.

“Women and individuals who are seeking access to abortion need to know that their elected officials are standing by them and will not allow city resources to be used to collect any data to potentially criminalize or prosecute them,” Councilwoman Teri Castillo (D5), who drafted the resolution and held the press conference outside City Hall, told the San Antonio Report after the event.

The resolution cannot prevent local enforcement from investigating criminal cases of abortion, Castillo acknowledged, because the council cannot tell police departments how or whether to investigate criminal cases, according to the city’s charter.

“But it’s a step in the right direction and it’s a step to build upon and implement additional policy,” she said.

Castillo didn’t elaborate on what additional policies council might consider, but said she was looking forward to hearing ideas from the community and her colleagues.

Castillo and Mayor Ron Nirenberg were joined by council members Mario Bravo (D1), Phyllis Viagran (D3), Melissa Cabello-Havrda (D6) and John Courage (D9); together, the six represent a majority of council.

The resolution is similar to the GRACE Act that the Austin City Council approved this week. That, too, was a symbolic policy recommendation, as Austin’s charter has similar rules around the direction of law enforcement.

See here for some background on Austin’s actions, about which you know what I think. I’m curious at this point to see how many other Texas cities follow in these footsteps. If it’s still relevant next year, – if there hasn’t been a federal law passed to reinstate abortion rights, and if the Lege hasn’t passed some crazy law to shut this down, and if this cause hasn’t been taken up yet here – I’ll be asking every candidate for Mayor and City Council that I interview what they think about doing the same thing in Houston. Texas Public Radio and the Current have more.

July 2022 campaign finance reports: City of Houston

We’re still more than a year out from the 2023 election, but we are now up to three serious conteners for Mayor, plus two others in the wild, so the finance reports are beginning to generate some real interest. The January 2022 reports are here, the July 2021 reports are here.


Candidate     Raised      Spent     Loan     On Hand
====================================================
Turner       209,950    129,870        0     802,194

Peck          19,100     19,457    5,000      24,057
Jackson       17,400     11,330        0      33,436
Kamin         86,461     14,691        0     193,807
E-Shabazz      8,000      5,591        0      17,691
Martin         2,500     18,138        0     151,767
Thomas         5,750      2,887        0      51,761
Huffman       45,350     45,284        0      30,697
Cisneros      13,500      1,164        0      38,094
Gallegos      27,050     14,126        0     127,933
Pollard      286,341     11,800   40,000     716,441
C-Tatum       51,950     16,089        0     154,697

Knox          18,425     10,266        0      37,185
Robinson      67,675     17,595        0     247,700
Kubosh        14,000     31,141  196,000      59,273
Plummer                   6,417    8,175      33,010
Alcorn        38,305     17,321        0     178,429

Brown            500      4,849   75,000      34,861

Hollins    1,123,316    138,079        0     941,155
Edwards      789,227     96,378        0     712,066

As a reminder, no links to individual reports here because the city’s system generates PDF downloads, and I don’t have the time to rename and upload and share them. Next year, when there are candidates, I’ll do that. Not this time.

All of the current officeholders submitted reports in a timely fashion this period. The only oddity was with the report for CM Letitia Plummer, which did not list an amount raised on either the summary or section totals pages. She clearly did raise some money, as a perusal of the rest of the report shows, but didn’t include a total for it anywhere. I didn’t feel like tallying it up myself, so I left the mystery in place. The only non-officeholders of interest to file reports are the two 2023 Mayoral candidates listed at the bottom, who made a decent splash with their unprecedented totals for this point in the cycle. While he did not file a city of Houston report yet, and while there is some uncertainty about how much he can move from his state account, Sen. John Whitmire had $9.7 million on hand as of July 15. Even if he can only transfer, say, 25% of that, it’s a lot of cash to start out with.

We must once again talk about the finance report for Ed Pollard, who I will say again must be planning something for his future because there is absolutely no need for this level of fundraising for his re-election campaign in District J. I had speculated that maybe he was aiming for a Mayoral campaign, but at this point that seems less likely – I can’t rule it out, but there’s already a big field of well-financed players, and Pollard would be the least known and tied for least-funded among them. Maybe next time, or maybe something in 2024? Or maybe he just really likes fundraising? Who knows.

Other than that, honestly kind of a boring set of reports. Things should start to get more interesting with the January 2023 reports – if nothing else, I’d expect to see a few new names. I’ll skip the HISD and HCC reports this cycle so look for those next January as well. I’ll round up a few state reports of interest for next time. Let me know what you think.

Hollins and Edwards report big Mayoral fundraising numbers

Yes, we’re going to need to start paying attention to this.

Chris Hollins

Houston’s next mayoral election is not for another 18 months, but the early contenders already are raising heaps of cash.

Former Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins has taken in more than $1.1 million in the first five months of his bid, according to data his campaign released Thursday. And former City Councilmember Amanda Edwards has raised about $780,000 since launching her candidacy on March 23, her campaign announced.

Both of those numbers far exceed what City Hall contenders historically have reported this far out from the election, as the November 2023 campaigns get off to an early start.

Five candidates already have announced their campaigns to succeed Mayor Sylvester Turner when his second term ends in January 2024: Hollins, Edwards, state Sen. John Whitmire, attorney Lee Kaplan and police officer Robin Williams.

Despite the strong fundraising starts from Hollins and Edwards, Whitmire will be the financial heavyweight in the race. The state senator, who has served in the Texas Legislature since 1973, has a war chest of more than $9.7 million in his state account, according to his latest filing.

When Turner made the jump from the Legislature to a mayoral campaign, he was allowed to transfer $900,000 of his funds, even though an opponent argued it was forbidden by city ordinance. City attorneys said at the time that Turner could transfer the first $5,000 from each donation to comply with the city’s more stringent cap on contributions. It is not yet clear exactly how much Whitmire will be able to transfer when he launches his mayoral campaign officially, likely this fall.

Amanda Edwards

Finance reports for declared candidates are due Friday and cover the first six months of this year. Williams and Kaplan have not publicly disclosed fundraising numbers yet.

[…]

The numbers set a new bar for fundraising this early. At this stage in the 2015 race, then-state Rep. Sylvester Turner reported raising $166,600 in donations and had $366,351 in the bank, although he had yet to formally declare his mayoral candidacy. Hollins has raised more money so far this year than Turner reported in all of 2014: $824,000, according to the mayor’s state filings at the time. Turner later would begin his mayoral candidacy in 2015 with $900,000 that he transferred from his state account.

Among other candidates that year, former Kemah Mayor Bill King and then-Sheriff Adrian Garcia did not report any contributions in July 2014, and had not announced candidacies at that point. The black-out ordinance still was in place at that point, and Garcia was barred from transferring his county account. Then-City Councilmember Stephen Costello reported $215,600 in contributions, with about $308,325 on hand. Each of those candidates would break the million-dollar threshold in the actual election year.

Eighteen months before his re-election, Turner reported $585,000 in contributions, though he had a campaign account of $2.2 million at that point. He broke the million-dollar threshold in both January and July 2019, and raised $1.7 million in the month between the 2019 general and runoff elections.

I will of course have a post on the city of Houston finance reports for July, along with those for Congress and Harris County and probably some state races. It’s going to be a busy weekend. Also, Adrian Garcia could not have announced any fundraising numbers for Mayor in 2014 because he was still Sheriff, and had to resign as Sheriff as soon as he announced his candidacy. That happened in early 2015. I knew that Mayor Turner had transferred money from his state account to his city campaign, but I’d forgotten what constraints he had. I suspect that Sen. Whitmire will still be able to move a fair amount of his existing treasury, and will have no trouble raising more. How much, we may soon see.

Chron story on the proposed new City Council map

Remember, you heard it here first.

Houston’s proposed City Council maps for 2023 elections make only minor changes to district boundaries near Rice University, Freedmen’s Town and parts of downtown.

Overall, less than 3% of Houston’s 2.3 million residents will change districts under the proposal, which is designed to balance district populations based on 2020 Census data, while complying with city requirements and the Voting Rights Act, according to City Demographer Jerry Wood.

By law, none of the 11 districts should vary by more than 10 percent from the average district population of approximately 209,000 residents. This means that Houston’s three most populous districts – Districts C, D and G – will lose some of their lands. Meanwhile, Districts H, I and J will need to expand.

“Unlike redistricting for legislative districts, there’s a lot more identification with a neighborhood that the civic leaders have and also the relationship that they establish with their council members,” Wood said. “So the desire is to create as little disruption as possible.”

[…]

In recent months, the public has repeatedly requested the city to keep super neighborhoods together, Wood said, something that demographers did not have in mind when initially dividing up the population.

The proposal managed to move Braeburn, a super neighborhood on the southwest side, into a single district and bring together most of Eastex – Jensen, one in north Houston. But Wood said he was not able to unite Greater Heights in north central or South Belt on the southeast side.

“Sometimes there are requests that simply are impossible,” Wood said.

The city has hired a law firm in anticipation of legal challenges. For one, the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), one of the largest Hispanic civil rights organizations in the country, has promised to sue the city over what its advocates characterize as a gross underrepresentation of Latinos on the City Council.

The lawsuit hopes to replace the city’s five at-large seats, which represent voters citywide, with single-member seats, which cover a certain geographical area. Sergio Lira, a Houston-based leader with LULAC, said his team is on track to file the lawsuit later this month.

“We anticipated that there would not be any major changes to the maps this time and that the city was not going to disrupt things too much,” Lira said. “It’s going to take a lawsuit in order to change the system.”

See here for my post on the new map, along with the schedule for public hearings, and here for my post about the promise of a lawsuit to ditch the At Large Council seats. Several cities have moved partly or fully away from At Large Council systems to all-district or hybrid systems in recent years, some with more of a fuss about it than others – Austin, Pasadena, Irving, Farmers Branch. It’s hard to say how litigation on this matter might go in this current climate, but on the other hand if the city lost in a federal district court it’s not clear to me that they’d pursue an appeal. This is an excellent place to get caught making dumb predictions, so I’ll stop myself before I go too far. I’ll wait and see what happens when LULAC files their complaint. In the meantime, attend one of those hearings if this interests you.

City Council redistricting on the agenda

Get ready for some public hearings.

The City Council of the City of Houston, Texas, will hold the following public hearings in the City Council Chamber, City Hall, 2nd Floor, 901 Bagby, Houston, Texas 77002. The purpose of the hearings is to receive comments, suggestions, and alternate plans from the public regarding the Proposed City Council Redistricting Plan, in accordance with the City Charter, Article V, Sec. 3:

Wednesday, July 13, 2022 at 9:00 a.m.

Wednesday, July 13, 2022 at 7:00 p.m.

Wednesday, July 20, 2022 at 9:00 a.m.

All persons desiring to be heard at any of the public hearings must reserve a specific amount of time (up to 3 minutes) by contacting the City Secretary’s Office at 832-393-1100. Details for signing up to speak in-person or virtually are posted at https://www.houstontx.gov/council/meetingsinfo.html(External link). Reservations for each hearing will be received up to 3:00 p.m. the day before each hearing is scheduled to begin.

See here, here, and here for some background. The current map is here and the proposed new map is here. As expected, the changes are fairly minor, to correct population imbalances. The Let’s Talk Houston redistricting page has more details, both overall and for each district. I don’t think this is going to be particularly eventful, but it’s redistricting so there’s always the potential. The question of whether we should get rid of At Large seats will need to be a separate discussion; it may come up here, but it’s not in the scope. Look for a lawsuit down the line. What do you think of the new map?

HISD approves its budget

First one for the new Superintendent.

Houston ISD trustees on Thursday unanimously approved a $2.2 billion budget that will give teacher raises some have called long overdue and fund the upcoming school year when the district is expected to begin implementing a strategic plan aimed at making the state’s largest school system more equitable.

All nine trustees voted in favor of the proposed budget following a presentation from Superintendent Millard House II about how parts of the budget will meet board goals, which a few trustees had asked about. A roughly $100 million deficit will end up being reduced to some $30 million at year’s end through unspent funds, mostly from job vacancies, administrators have said they anticipate.

“We cannot hope to serve the needs of our children by being close-fisted on the most important determinant of their success: high-quality professional educators,” Trustee Elizabeth Santos, who frequently advocates for educators from the dais, said in a statement posted on Twitter after the vote. “This budget honors our kids by honoring our teachers, support staff and principals. It is past time for HISD to be the district that sets the standard in our region. I’m proud to be part of the team that gets us there.”

The compensation package, backed with the help of federal COVID-19 relief money the district received, will boost the salary of a starting teacher to $61,500 from the current annual pay of $56,869. Employees at the higher end of salary ranges will see about $3,000 more each year, those salaries reaching the mid- and high-$80,000s.

Other employees are also expected to receive raises as the district will update its master pay table.

The spending plan also set the financial framework for the first full year of House’s five-year strategic plan. Campuses will be required to staff librarians or media specialists, nurse or nurse assistants, and counselors.

In addition to the $2.2 billion operating budget, the district expects to pay another $374 million in debt service. Central administrators this spring cut $60 million in what House has called the first step toward financial sustainability. The cuts did not affect the police force, financial or legal services, House said.

See here and here for some background. HISD was known to pay its teachers less than other area districts, and it has seen some teachers leave as a result, so the pay raise was needed. We’ll see how those first pieces of the strategic plan go. I’m generally optimistic, but there are always some bumps in the road. Now that this has been settled and HISD appears to be in fairly stable shape for the near term, it’s probably time to start talking about the next capital bond issuance. The last one was in 2012, and there are surely numerous buildings that need work, and that’s without mentioning the urgency of better ventilation as a COVID mitigation. I don’t know if there’s time to get a bond item on the ballot this year, but if they wait until next year at least it’s a city election year and we’ll have an open Mayor’s race, so they won’t have to sweat as much to get their voters to the polls. Hope you’re working on a plan for this, HISD.

Here’s your public meeting schedule for Houston City Council redistricting

Attend one and be In The Know.

Houston residents will have a chance to preview potential changes to Houston’s 11 City Council districts at a series of public town hall meetings in April and May.

[…]

The town hall meetings will start at 6 p.m. Residents can find redistricting information, sign up for meetings, ask questions and submit comments at letstalkhouston.org/redistricting.

The meetings are set for:

Tuesday, April 19 : District E, Councilmember Dave Martin, Kingwood Park Community Center, 4102 Rustic Woods Dr., Kingwood

Monday, April 25: District H, Councilmember Karla Cisneros, Moody Park Community Center, 3725 Fulton St.

Tuesday, April 26: District A, Councilmember Amy Peck, Trini Mendenhall Community Center, 1414 Wirt Rd.

Monday, May 2: District J, Councilmember Edward Pollard, Sharpstown Park Community Center, 6855 Harbor Town Dr.

Tuesday, May 3: District C, Councilmember Abbie Kamin, Congregation Emanu El, 1500 Sunset Blvd.

Wednesday, May 4: : District K, Councilmember Martha Castex-Tatum, Fountain Life Center 14083 S. Main St.

Tuesday, May 10: District I, Councilmember Robert Gallegos, HCC Southeast Campus, 6815 Rustic St.

Thursday, May 12: District G, Councilmember Mary Nan Huffman, Grace Presbyterian Church, 10221 Ella Lee Lane.

Monday, May 16: District D, Councilmember Carolyn Evans-Shabazz, HCC South Campus, 1990 Airport Blvd.

Tuesday, May 17: District F, Councilmember Tiffany Thomas, Alief ISD Center of Talent Development, 14411 Westheimer

Wednesday, May 18: District E, Councilmember Dave Martin, Johnson Space Center Special Event Room, 2101 E. NASA Pkwy.

Thursday, May 19: District B, Councilmember Tarsha Jackson, Acres Home Multi-Service Center, Senior Service Room, 6719 W. Montgomery Rd.

See here and here for some background. Most likely these will end up being minor changes, unless there’s further effort to get rid of the At Large positions. That said, there’s always some support for or opposition to joining or splitting particular neighborhoods – there was an effort to put all of the Heights into a single Council district back in 2011, for example – and that might be a thing that you have opinions about. Attend one or more of these meetings and find out for yourself.

January 2022 campaign finance reports: HCC

Previously: City of Houston, HISD

If HISD campaign finance reports are less sexy than city of Houston finance reports, then HCC finance reports are like HISD finance reports wearing thermal underwear. Nevertheless, we persist.

Monica Flores Richart – Dist 1
Adriana Tamez – Dist 3
Reagan Flowers – Dist 4
Robert Glaser – Dist 5
Dave Wilson – Dist 6
Cynthia Lenton-Gary – Dist 7
Eva Loredo – Dist 8
Pretta VanDible Stallworth – Dist 9


Dist  Candidate     Raised      Spent     Loan     On Hand
==========================================================
1       Richart          0          0        0       2,608
3         Tamez      9,775     15,040        0      12,641
4       Flowers      8,561     18,440        0       2,985
5        Glaser          0          0    4,000       8,292
6        Wilson          0     14,879        0           0
7   Lenton-Gary          0          0        0           0
8        Loredo     10,589      6,418    7,000       8,520
9    Stallworth          0          0        0           0

The July 2021 reports are here, and the 30 day reports for November are here. As you might expect, all the action comes from the trustees who were on the ballot in November.

Dave Wilson sigh is now listed in the HCC campaign finance reports system as “David Wilson”, which I’m pretty sure is new. I’d say for sure, but there are no past reports for him that I can find, even though he’d been a trustee before and has been a candidate for trustee many times. Every other incumbent has every single finance report for their time in office available through this interface, but not Wilson. I don’t know if this is because of a quirk in their reporting system that can’t handle trustee with discontinuous service time or if they just forgot that he used to be there. Either way this is all we get.

As is usually the case, Wilson doesn’t raise money, he just spends whatever he spends out of personal funds. He has normal looking expenditures for mail, yard signs, advertising, and campaign consulting. I guess because he was technically unopposed, he didn’t have to dip into his usual bag of tricks.

I didn’t spend much time looking at the other reports. About $15K of Reagan Flowers’ expenditures was a transfer to her state campaign account. Perhaps she’ll move some funds back now if she has them left over; we’ll see that in the next July report if so.

The next finance reports of interest will be for the special election in District 2 in May. I’ll check on those at the 30 day point. I will also have interviews with the candidates in that race the week after next.

Chron story on City Council redistricting

Lots more info now.

As Houston begins to redraw its City Council map for the 2023 elections, two districts representing western portions of the city, including Montrose, the Heights, River Oaks, and Uptown, among other neighborhoods, have out-sized populations that likely will have to be reduced, according to census data.

Meanwhile, majority-Hispanic districts on the Near Northside, East End and in southwest Houston — predominantly Sharpstown and Gulfton — now include fewer residents than the average district and likely will have to expand.

The population distribution, released district-by-district on Tuesday, is based on the 2020 census, which the city must use to create new boundaries. That survey was conducted during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic and under-counted Hispanic and Black populations nationally, according to the Census Bureau.

[…]

City staff presented the population numbers but have not yet begun to discuss how to redraw the lines. They are aiming to maintain relatively equal population numbers, have easily identifiable boundaries, and retain the integrity of neighborhoods and communities of interest.

Another priority: “preserve incumbent-constituency relations,” which means they will try to keep communities in their existing districts when possible. That also makes it unlikely any incumbent council member will be drawn out of his or her district. Eight of the 11 current district council members are eligible to run for re-election.

While redistricting often is overtly political at the county, state and national levels, city offices are nonpartisan. City council redistricting is more focused on balancing populations and demographic representation.

Residents can sign up for meetings, ask questions and submit comments at letstalkhouston.org/redistricting. In addition to 11 district council members, the city has five at-large council members elected by voters citywide. Houston is the only large city in Texas that still elects at-large members.

The city has hired a law firm, Thompson & Horton, to help the planning and legal departments produce the maps and defend against any legal challenges.

One such lawsuit already has been promised. The League of United Latin American Citizens has said it plans to target Houston’s at-large seats, arguing they should be replaced with four seats in heavily Hispanic districts. Hispanic residents make up 45 percent of the population, but only one council member right now is Hispanic, Robert Gallegos of District I.

The group also plans to pursue a charter amendment, which would present the same argument to city voters.

“It’s just a glaring example of inequitable representation.” said Sergio Lira, a local leader with LULAC. When other cities converted at-large seats to district members, he added, “the effect was more minority representation.”

See here and here for some background. This PowerPoint presentation is a good overview including the current district populations, and the Let’s Talk Houston page for redistricting has the schedule, the current Council map, the dates for each community meeting, and more. I don’t have anything else to add, I’ll obviously be paying close attention to all this, and I would encourage you to attend one of those community meetings if you can, they will have a lot to offer for you.

City Council redistricting is on the dock

Here’s a schedule of events related to redistricting for Houston City Council. Some of this has already happened. Last week, unless it got tagged in which case it will come up again at the next Council meeting, Council should have adopted a “Resolution containing Redistricting Criteria for establishing single-member Council districts and Redistricting Guidelines for proposed plans from the public”. As we know, Council districts need to be approximately the same size, with a bit of wiggle room on either end, and as of the 2020 Census there are some significant differences that will need to be ironed out.

Normally, and unlike ten years ago when two new districts needed to be added as a result of a lawsuit settlement from years before, this is no big deal. Move a few precincts around to get everyone within constitutionally acceptable ranges, and move on. There are some other items that will surely come up, including the elimination of At Large seats and the separation of Clear Lake and Kingwood into their own districts. Those are optional, and much less likely to happen, though there will be voices calling for them. There will be community input town halls in April and May, a draft plan produced in June, public hearings in July, a revised plan based on feedback from those town halls in August, and if all goes well, an adopted plan in September. I’m sure there will be plenty to talk about at each step of the way.

Amanda Edwards to run for Mayor

The field is now at three.

Amanda Edwards

Amanda Edwards, a former at-large member of Houston City Council and candidate for U.S. Senate, announced Wednesday she is running for mayor of Houston in 2023.

Edwards’ return to politics comes two years after her fifth-place finish in the 2020 Democratic Senate primary. She previously had served a single term as one of Houston’s five citywide council members, before passing up a second term to run for Senate.

With Edwards’ announcement, there now are three major candidates vying next year to succeed Mayor Sylvester Turner, who cannot run again due to term limits. Edwards, who would be the first Black woman to lead Houston city government, said her experience at City Hall sets her apart from the other two candidates, former Harris County clerk Chris Hollins and state Sen. John Whitmire, both of whom, like Edwards, are Democrats and attorneys.

“There are complicated issues that are facing the next mayor. The easy stuff, that was done many years ago,” Edwards said. “It’s the hard stuff that’s left, and you’ve got to have somebody at the helm on Day One that is ready to lead and knows how to navigate the city and all of its challenges and opportunities that may be in front of us.”

During her four-year tenure on Houston City Council, Edwards served as vice chair of the council’s Budget and Fiscal Affairs Committee and helped direct a task force focused on boosting the city’s tech and startup economy.

She proposed amendments to the annual city budget — one of the few levers of power for council members under Houston’s strong-mayor form of government — that sought to speed up the permitting process, expand internet access for low-income communities and improve conditions for women- and minority-owned businesses.

As mayor, Edwards said she would focus on “cultivating opportunity for everyone,” including businesses owned by women and minorities, who she said face “great disparities when they’re trying to access traditional forms of capital” to grow their businesses.

I thought Edwards would be an obvious contender for Mayor back when she was a Council member, for a variety of reasons – she was young and had a strong showing in her first election, did well raising money, would be term-limited at the same time as Mayor Turner, had plenty of opportunity to make things happen on Council, and so on. She chose a different path, declining to run for re-election before entering the Democratic primary for US Senate in 2020, where she raised a respectable but not impressive amount of money and finished a disappointing fifth place in that large field. Even when she was a candidate for Senate I still thought she might wind up running for Mayor. And so here we are. (You can also see what a genius I was at predicting the future.)

Whatever route she took to get here, she’s here now. As I’ve said many times, we’ll have a better handle on how her candidacy, or anyone’s, is doing when we see the first batch of campaign finance reports. Money isn’t everything, but at least early on it’s a decent proxy for how much interest there is in a particular contender, and where that interest is coming from. Right now we have three candidates with varied backgrounds and experiences, and they’re out there introducing themselves to the wider audience that they’ll need to appeal to. It’s likely that field will grow, so making a good impression now while there’s less competition is of great value. There’s a lot happening right now, and we should all rank the 2022 election ahead of the 2023 one, but do keep an eye on these people, as one of them could be our next Mayor. Edwards’ intro video is here. I wish her luck. The Trib and the Texas Signal have more.

January 2022 campaign finance reports: City of Houston

January finance reports are always worth a look, if only as a ritual to start the new year. We’re a year out from election season truly beginning for Houston, but as we now have two brand name contenders for Mayor already, we should check in and see how our current electeds are doing in the fundraising department. I last looked at these reports in July of 2021. Let’s see what folks have been up to since then.


Candidate     Raised      Spent     Loan     On Hand
====================================================
Turner       311,976    156,329        0     723,455

Peck          25,620     13,989    5,000      27,442
Jackson        2,775      8,725        0      27,367
Kamin         14,620      7,824        0     124,434
E-Shabazz      8,440     13,625        0      15,282
Martin        56,350     32,011        0     162,311
Thomas        
Huffman       21,550     24,921        0      27,040
Cisneros       9,495      2,033        0      25,758
Gallegos      50,355     16,218        0     114,905
Pollard      151,275     12,946   40,000     441,900
C-Tatum       10,000      8,576        0     118,827

Knox          13,385      5,227        0      17,884
Robinson      50,595     11,758        0     189,134
Kubosh        33,200     31,914  196,000      73,174
Plummer       14,191     22,440        0      25,473
Alcorn       153,700     26,652        0     158,067

Brown          3,000      6,067   75,000      38,887

As a reminder, no links to individual reports here because the city’s system generates PDF downloads, and I don’t have the time to rename and upload and share them. Next year, when there are candidates, I’ll do that. Not this time.

Mayor Turner is the biggest recipient of campaign cash, which is usually how it is. He won’t be on the 2023 ballot, but we will have at least two charter referenda in our future, and I’m sure he’ll want to be able to have some influence over them. As was the case with Mayor Parker and term limits in 2015, he might want to add one or two more to that list, on policy matters that have been discussed but not yet addressed. I’m thinking of the stupid revenue cap, and a second try at an equal rights ordinance, this time for the charter. I have no special insight on these matters, just a long memory and a searchable archive, both of which I endeavor to use for good and not evil.

The fact that we have two high-profile Mayoral candidates in place (well, as much as one can be at this early hour) doesn’t mean that there aren’t other potential Mayorals out there. Last time I noted CM Ed Pollard’s prodigious fundraising, in which he amassed an amount that far outstripped his possible need for re-election in his district, and noted that he has been on some people’s lips as a possible candidate for Mayor. His January finance report does nothing to turn that speculation down, though also as noted before he may have his eye on some other prizes as well.

On the other end of that spectrum is the one person I had felt most confident about as a 2023 Mayoral candidate, and that’s City Controller Chris Brown, who seemed a natural fit for the Mayoral candidate role and who has demonstrated fundraising prowess in the past. Not these past six months, though, and his cash on hand total is looking awfully paltry. Does that mean anything? It’s too early to say. But now that John Whitmire and Chris Hollins are out there doing Mayoral candidate things, the time to decide whether or not one wants to join them in that is not far off. Michael Kubosh, who is currently doing Michael Kubosh things, falls in between the two of them in fundraising action. He’ll be facing the same decision as well.

A person who turned it up several notches after a sedate second half of 2021 is CM Sallie Alcorn, who was a top fundraiser for her initial election and now seems to be preparing for her second race. Note that in recent years, the old “blackout” period for fundraising was eliminated, so incumbents can get a head start on building up their treasuries. Fewer of them have need to do that now, as about half of them are term-limited. Some of those term-limited folks will be leaving with a decent amount of cash in their kitties – I’m thinking Dave Martin, Robert Gallegos, and David Robinson. It’s not clear to me what if any office they might use those funds for in the future – maybe one of them has an eye on Controller – but they have them if they want them.

Not much else of note. Greg Travis is now filing state reports, so he’s been swapped out for Mary Nan Huffman, who still has a few bucks in her account. I did not find a report for Tiffany Thomas. I’ll do HISD and HCC next to finish this off. Let me know what you think.

The hotly contested SD15 primary

This may be the most compelling primary race in the county.

Sen. John Whitmire

On the last day for candidates to file for the 2022 primary in Texas, things were looking good for state Sen. John Whitmire.

The longtime Democrat, sitting on an $11 million campaign war chest, had recently announced his plan to run for mayor of Houston in 2023. The more pressing matter — Whitmire’s re-election to the state Senate in 2022 — seemed a mere formality, with the filing deadline hours away and no other Democrat running in his deep-blue district.

Instead, Whitmire drew a last-minute challenge from Molly Cook, an emergency room nurse and progressive activist who appears to be the incumbent senator’s most formidable opponent in decades.

The longest-serving member of the Senate, Whitmire is heading into Tuesday’s election with clear-cut advantages over Cook, having outspent her roughly 3-to-1 and represented the district since nearly a decade before she was born. Still, Whitmire’s declared — and potential — mayoral opponents are keeping a close eye on the contest, which poses a fresh test of the senator’s electoral strength in a district that takes in a large chunk of the Houston electorate.

Whitmire said he takes “each and every opponent very seriously,” including Cook. He has shaped his re-election bid around his 39 years of experience in the Senate, arguing that his knowledge of the legislative process and presence on key committees — as chair of the Criminal Justice Committee and a member of the budget-shaping Finance and Business & Commerce committees — give him clout even in the Republican-dominated chamber.

“I think my chairmanship of Criminal Justice is reason alone for people to support me,” said Whitmire, 72. “Experience matters. … I don’t even think it’s a close call on who is prepared, from Day One, to represent Houston.”

Molly Cook

Though Cook, 30, is making her first run for elected office, she entered the race after spending more than a year as a lead organizer behind Stop TxDOT I-45, the group opposing the state transportation agency’s controversial $7 billion plan to remake Interstate 45 north of downtown Houston. She said her deep ties to grassroots organizing would shape her approach to serving in the Senate, vowing to seek input from community advocates through “bottom-up planning.”

At the same time, Cook argues that Whitmire — who was elected to the House in 1972, while a senior at the University of Houston, before moving to the Senate a decade later — has lost touch with the district through his nearly half-century in office. She has also accused Whitmire of “running for two offices at once” by way of his early mayoral announcement.

At a forum in late January, Cook said Whitmire’s “way of doing things is no longer serving our district or our state. She touted her own “fresh perspective and public health and policy expertise.”

“Sen. Whitmire has been in the Legislature since he was 23,” Cook said. “I have the experience of being a health care worker, making sacrifices to afford my health care, renting my home, and grassroots organizing. Sen. Whitmire is weighed down by experience, decades of campaign contributions, backroom deals and protecting personal political capital.”

Whitmire insists that he is completely focused on his current election, and dismissed charges from Cook that he would already have one foot out the door during the 2023 legislative session. He noted that Mayor Sylvester Turner also ran for re-election to the state House in 2014, even as he was gearing up for a mayoral run the following year.

“Nothing matters more to me right now than the Senate race. Any future race, we’ll take up after this race. I see no conflict,” Whitmire said. “So, that’s just a smokescreen. My opponent had to say something. She’s not going to say I’m a good guy. She should, but, you know, there’s no core Democratic issue to talk about. I voted nearly exactly like (state Sens.) Borris Miles and Carol Alvarado. We work very closely as a delegation.”

As a reminder, my interview with Sen. Whitmire is here, and my interview with Molly Cook is here. There are a lot of Molly Cook signs in my neighborhood. I wouldn’t claim we’re indicative of anything, but it’s interesting to me anyway. I know Cook has blockwalked here – she knocked on my door a few weeks ago – and as far as I know Whitmire has not. That can make a difference, especially in a neighborhood like mine that is often not visited by canvassers. It’s also the case that the I-45 expansion plan is very unpopular here – we have been dreading TxDOT’s plans for I-45 for at least the last 20 years – and I suspect that Cook has found more than a few supporters by talking about her involvement in the opposition to TxDOT.

I also think that Whitmire’s announcement of his Mayoral campaign last November didn’t do him any favors. Whitmire has noted correctly that Mayor Turner ran for re-election in 2014 and then served ably in the Legislature in 2015 before his successful Mayoral campaign. I don’t remember Turner announcing his Mayoral candidacy that early, though it was hardly a secret that he intended to run. It may just be that things are different now, and people feel differently about that. It also may be that the backlash to Whitmire’s dual candidacy announcement is totally overblown and nothing more than a tempest in the teapot-sized world of the very inside and very online local politics contingent. Ask me again after the election results come in.

One more thing:

Even if Cook loses, a strong showing could establish her as a frontrunner in what would likely be a crowded race to replace Whitmire if he wins the November 2023 mayoral race, said University of Houston political science associate professor Jeronimo Cortina.

“Perhaps what she wants to do is get on the ballot early and claim that particular space that is going to be opened,” Cortina said. “I think it’s a smart move on her behalf.”

If she comes up short next week, Cook said she would likely run for the seat again if the opportunity arises in 2024.

“I don’t like to make promises or commitments looking forward, because anything could happen,” Cook said. “But I would say that there’s a high likelihood.”

I fully expect that Cook has an eye on 2024, because winning this race was always going to be tough, and because there is an opening for someone to get in front of the field for that potential special election. One step at a time, obviously. We can talk about this after the election as well.

Chris Hollins to run for Mayor

Wow.

Chris Hollins

Chris Hollins, the former Harris County elections chief who pushed measures aimed at expanding ballot access during the November 2020 election, announced Monday that he’s running for Houston mayor in 2023.

“The challenges that we’re facing as Houstonians are becoming more and more complex,” Hollins, 35, said in an interview with The Texas Tribune. “And to overcome those challenges, that job demands innovation, that job demands effective leadership. And so we need a mayor who has a vision for Houston, but who also has the skills and attributes necessary to achieve that vision.”

Hollins, a Texas Democratic Party official who temporarily served as Harris County clerk in 2020, rose to prominence two years ago by championing efforts intended to make it easier for people to vote during the pandemic, including 24-hour drive-thru voting and a bid to send applications for mail-in ballots to more than 2 million registered voters in Harris County.

Those efforts drew a legal battle and a decisive rebuke from state Republican lawmakers, who passed a sweeping voting restrictions bill last year that outlawed the measures Hollins put in place.

Now, Hollins is looking to use his brief seven-month tenure as county clerk to catapult him into the mayor’s office — where he would oversee a $5.1 billion budget and 23,000 municipal employees. He’s running to replace Mayor Sylvester Turner, who will step down next year after serving two four-year terms; the city has term limits that prevent him from running again.

Hollins is the second major candidate to announce for mayor, following state Sen. John Whitmire, a longtime Houston Democrat with deep ties to the city’s police and fire unions and an $11 million war chest.

Well, the 2023 Mayor’s race just got a lot more exciting. I interviewed Hollins after the 2020 election and asked him (among other things) about the Republican reaction to his innovations, which they very much did follow through on. I imagine all of that will come up again, so get ready for it. There are other potential candidates out there, and given the early announcements by these two potentially quite formidable contenders, we may either get more of the same in the coming weeks, as no one will want to fall behind in the fundraising race, or we may find that the well of hopefuls has dried up a bit.

I don’t normally like to get ahead of one election with another, but to some extent that can’t be helped. Whatever my personal preferences are, we’re going to be hearing a lot about this race going forward. It’s a pretty sharp move on Hollins’ part because it sort of puts Sen. Whitmire, who has pledged to give his full attention to his 2022 race and the 2023 legislative session before he begins campaigning in earnest for Mayor, in a box. Whitmire probably doesn’t want to ignore Hollins, but at least over the next few weeks he can’t do all that much either or he’ll provide evidence for one of the main criticisms that Molly Cook, his primary opponent, has made against him. Even beyond that, he’s made his pledge about his order of operations and his priorities. That’s harder for him to do now.

We’ll see how it goes. By the same token, Hollins likely doesn’t want to divert too much attention from the very important 2022 election, so perhaps this is a smaller problem for Whitmire than it may appear. Whatever the case, as I said above, this race is a lot more interesting now. The Chron has more.

HCC will have an election to fill its vacancy

So much for an appointment.

Re: HCC Board of Trustees District II Position

Residents of District II and the Community At-Large:

The Houston Community College (HCC) Board of Trustees remains committed to serving the best interest of the entire community. This commitment extends to our students, faculty, staff, and equally to each and every district that comprises the HCC service area.

During the course of the past few months, the HCC governing board has had the responsibility of navigating challenging circumstances which directly impact District II and its residents. In fact, these unforeseen circumstances impact the entire HCC district and call upon us as a governing board to act prudently in a manner that best serves our community, while meeting the legal and policy requirements available to us.

Notably, the events surrounding the District II position have been distressing for many in District II, the HCC community, and for the HCC governing board. However, we will overcome this difficulty by working together in service to our remarkably diverse community.

To advance this important matter, the law provides for an election to fill the District II trustee position in May 2022. This anticipated election empowers the people of District II to choose their desired trustee and once elected, that individual will begin service on the HCC Board of Trustees. Until a new trustee is seated, we invite the District II community to apprise us of any concerns, questions and needs that may arise.

We greatly appreciate all the residents of District II and your patience throughout this process. We will continue to diligently work – in partnership – with the community to ensure that we all emerge from this situation stronger.

See here and here for the background. The message was signed by Dr. Cynthia Lenton-Gary, the new Board Chair. I don’t know why they were unable to find a suitable person to appoint to the position, which has been the normal course of action, but here we are. The election has not yet been set – I presume that will happen at the next Board meeting – but as noted before, it will be the only election run by Harris County on the uniform election date in May, which is Saturday, May 7. The primary runoff date is Tuesday, May 24, so you lucky duckies in HCC District 2 will get to vote twice in May. The lucky ducky who wins that election will then have to run again in 2023 get to serve through the end of what would have been Skillern-Jones’ term, through 2025. I’ll let you know when there’s more.

Is it time to ditch At Large seats on Houston City Council?

Here’s one argument for it.

The lack of Latinos on the City Council undermines the legitimacy of Houston’s government, experts say, and is something that a prominent Hispanic organization is pushing to change with a lawsuit and ballot proposition.

The League of United Latin American Citizens, one of the largest Hispanic civil rights organizations in the country, is tackling what they characterize as a gross underrepresentation of Latinos in one of the most diverse cities in the U.S. by proposing that the five at-large positions on council elected citywide be replaced with four seats in heavily Hispanic districts.

Currently, just one Hispanic — Robert Gallegos — holds a seat on the 16-member body. By contrast, 45 percent of Houston residents are Hispanic.

“The most serious threat to the legitimacy of Houston city government is this idea that you can have half of the population of the city represented by 6 percent of the council,” said Mark Jones, a political science professor at Rice University. “Imagine if we flipped things around and there’s only one African American on the Houston City Council, or there’s only one Anglo, or there’s only one woman … It would be seen as a national travesty of democracy; it would be the subject of constant outcry.”

The city is expected to look at redistricting prior to its 2023 election, and could redraw the 11 districts if they are deemed unbalanced at that point. But LULAC said replacing at-large seats with more single-district seats would reduce barriers that undercut Latino representation.

“If we had parity, half of this council would be Latino,” said local LULAC leader Sergio Lira, co-chair of a new Houston taskforce created under the direction of the organization’s national President, Domingo García, who launched the effort in a meeting with local leaders last week.

García, a lawyer with offices statewide, said the effort includes a push to bring a charter amendment with the proposition to citizens to vote on and to file a lawsuit against the city.

Houston has the worst Hispanic representation in city councils among all Texas cities with populations over 500,000, all of which have eliminated at-large positions in their governments, according to census and government data.

“Houston is the outlier in Texas when it comes to Latino representation and is the only large city with at-large seats,” García said.

Those cities — San Antonio, Dallas, Austin, Fort Worth, and El Paso — all have councils that look much more similar to their cities’ Hispanic populations. Dallas, which is 42 percent Hispanic, has the next-lowest Hispanic representation on council with 29 percent Hispanics.

It’s tough to get elected to Houston’s at-large seats, García said.

“They are very difficult for Latinos to win because of the amount of money, coalitions and logistics it takes to win,” he said. “It’s like running for mayor.”

There’s a lot to say here, and I’ll try to get to the main points, but let me start by saying it’s a little more complex than what Garcia and Lira are arguing. There are multiple districts that have are at least plurality Latino – H, J, F, and A. H, currently held by CM Karla Cisneros, had reliably elected Latinos before Cisneros and likely will again; none of the others have elected Latinos. There is of course a big difference between “population”, “voting-age population” and “citizen voting-age population”, and that’s before we take into account voter registration and who generally turns out to vote in our odd-year elections, where 20% turnout is on the higher end. We could elect more Latinos with the map we have now, at least in theory. It very much hasn’t worked out that way in practice, and I doubt you’d find anyone who would argue that the current map is conducive to having more than two Latinos get elected from the current districts.

It’s also true that Latinos have been shut out from the At Large seats since the days of Orlando Sanchez and Gracie Saenz twenty years ago. We also haven’t had a lot of strong Latino contenders for At Large seats lately. In 2015, no Latinos ran for At Large #3 or #5, and the only one in At Large #1 was perennial candidate James Partsch-Galvan. There were Latinos in all the At Large races in 2019, but none of them raised any money. That’s what Garcia and Lira are saying, and others have said it before them, but it just doesn’t take as much money to run a credible At Large campaign as it does to run for Mayor. Mayoral candidates need well over a million bucks, but the big money candidates for At Large raise in the $200-400K range. Not nothing, but not a huge pile of money either. It’s a bit of a vicious circle – people who might want to run are discouraged because it’s hard for them to raise money and the recent record of citywide Latino candidates is brutal, which leads to a paucity of such candidates for anyone to support.

I can’t leave this point without bringing up, once again, the 2007 At Large #5 runoff, in which Jolanda Jones defeated Joe Trevino in a race where about 25K total votes were cast. Jones had run citywide before (in At Large #3) and was better known, and the other runoffs on the ballot were City Council District D and HISD District II, both of which favored Jones’ candidacy. Trevino was a longshot no matter how you looked at it, but still. This was the clearest shot to get a Latino elected citywide, and he got bupkus in terms of financial support, including from the folks who had been threatening to sue to force City Council redistricting prior to the 2010 Census. Public support of campaigns and candidates is a complicated and nuanced thing that is more often solicited than given, I get that. I’m just saying, none of the folks who were lamenting the lack of Latino representation on Houston City Council were moved to write Joe Trevino a $100 check. Make of that what you will.

(There was also the Michael Kubosh-Roy Morales runoff of 2013. The politics of that one are different, for obvious reasons. I went back and looked, and Roy Morales actually raised about $50K for that runoff, which isn’t too shabby. There were only a couple of Latino names among his donors, though. Again, make of that what you will.)

Moving on. I have generally been supportive of having the hybrid district/At Large Council that we have. At least if you have a sub-par Council person in your district, you still have five At Large members you can turn to for support if you need it, and I think there’s value in having people who need to have a broader perspective. That said, I’d bet that most of the At Large members we have had over the past 20 or so years have come from a limited geographical distribution – this was very much the problem with Austin’s at large system, where nearly everyone on their Council came from the same part of town – and let’s just say that some of our At Large members are better than others and leave it at that. All in all, I don’t think it would be a great loss to change to an all-district system, and I would be inclined to support it if and when it comes to a vote. I’d like to see the proposal first – there are, as we well know, good and not-so-good ways to draw maps – but as a concept, I support it.

Knowing it is a long shot, LULAC decided to initiate a drive to collect 20,000 signatures in February in favor of their proposition, as the early voting for the state primaries begins. The number is the minimum needed to force the inclusion of a charter amendment in the ballot, bypassing the approval of City Council, which would only decide when it should be put for a citizens’ vote.

LULAC is simultaneously preparing a lawsuit it plans to file in court by March to eliminate all at-large positions in favor of single districts.

We’ll see how that goes. Petition drives have been pretty successful in recent years, even if they don’t always get their referenda on the next available ballot. There are already two items scheduled for the ballot in 2023, and with an open seat Mayoral race that will make it a very busy cycle. An item like this could get a bit lost in the noise, or it could be a big issue, as surely the various Mayoral candidates will need to weigh in on it. I’ll be very interested to see how the petition drive and the litigation go.

HCC seeks a new Board member

There’s a vacancy to fill now.

The Board of Trustees publicly and formally invites qualified members of the public to apply to be considered for appointment to the position of HCC Trustee District II. The Texas Education Code requires that the position for HCC Trustee, District II be up for election at the next regular trustee election in November 2023 for the unexpired term. The current term for HCC Trustee District II will expire on December 31, 2025.

​The proposed process the Board will undertake to fill the vacancy for the position of HCC Trustee District II is as follows:

An announcement regarding the position will be posted on the HCC website from Wednesday, January 12, 2022 through 12:00 p.m. on Tuesday, January 18, 2022. Interested, qualified applicants should apply by submitting a cover letter and resume to [email protected] no later than 12:00 p.m. on January 18, 2022. The Board may interview applicants and make a final selection at a Board meeting on Friday, January 21, 2022. Notice of the meeting to include the date, time, and location will be posted 72 hours prior to the scheduled meeting in accordance to the Open Meetings Act.

To be qualified, the applicant must meet the following criteria:

  1. Must be a U.S. citizen.
  2. Must be 18 years of age or older on the first day of the term to be filled on the date of appointment.
  3. Must not have been adjudged by a final judgment of a court exercising probate jurisdiction to be totally mentally incapacitated or partially mentally incapacitated without the right to vote.
  4. ​Must not have been finally convicted of a felony without a pardon or otherwise released from the resulting disabilities.
  5. Must have resided in HCC District II for at least six months and in the state of Texas for at least 12 months immediately preceding the appointment by the Board.
  6. Must be a registered voter on date the appointment is made and be registered to vote in HCC District II.

See here for the background. I’m told there’s a somewhat obscure provision in state law that would have allowed the Board to not name a replacement within 30 days of the vacancy and thus force a special election on the next uniform election date. That would have meant a May election in Harris County, and would have been the only thing on the ballot in Harris County at that time. (Yes, there will be primary runoffs in May, but those don’t happen on the May uniform election date and aren’t set up to accommodate a concurrent general election. It would have been messy and needlessly confusing.) It also might have meant that Rhonda Skillern-Jones would have continued to be Trustee for at least some period of time longer, even though she had resigned in December. The Board made the right choice here. Get your resume in if you qualify and are interested.

Sen. Whitmire will run for Mayor in 2023

Big announcement.

Sen. John Whitmire

State Sen. John Whitmire, the longest serving member of the Texas Senate, told supporters at a campaign rally Wednesday that he intends to run for mayor of Houston in 2023.

“I’m no longer considering it, we’re not asking people, we’re running for mayor and we intend to win,” Whitmire told supporters in a video later posted to Twitter by journalist Jose de Jesus Ortiz. “We’re planning to win with your help.”

Whitmire long has been rumored to be interested in the seat, but the remarks make him the first candidate to publicly declare he is running for the office to succeed Mayor Sylvester Turner.

He intends to run for re-election to the Senate in 2022, serve in the 2023 legislative session, and then run for mayor in the November 2023 municipal election.

Whitmire told the Chronicle Thursday he is focused on the Senate for now.

“I shared with supporters my plans for future,” Whitmire said. “There will be official public announcement at future date… But it’s no secret I plan to run for mayor.”

[…]

Whitmire, a Democrat, has represented Houston in the Texas Legislature since 1973, first as a state representative and then in the Senate beginning in 1983.

He has an $11 million campaign war chest, which alone would make him a formidable candidate in a city election. No city official currently has more than Turner’s $522,058 in the bank.

I at least became aware of those rumors back in May. I will just say that Sen. Whitmire’s proposed schedule for 2022 and 2023 sounds awfully busy, and may or may not be practical depending on what other candidates do. There are a number of other potential candidates out there, and I will be interested to see how they react. Whitmire will be a formidable contender, but we’re a long way off from November of 2023. As I usually say in these instances, let’s get through the next elections first. Campos, who knew this was coming, and the ,Trib have more.

More on the November 2021 election results

Here’s the Chron story on the Tuesday election results. It is mostly a straight recording of the individual races, including those I covered yesterday and others that I didn’t. Of the most interest to me is this:

Results were delayed until late Tuesday, in part because of a reported power outage at Harris County Elections’ counting center. Early and absentee totals were not available until after 10 p.m.,

“The machines are sensitive to any interference, so to ensure the integrity of the computers we conducted a full logic and accuracy test, which takes about two hours,” according to a Facebook post by the county’s elections administration office. “Though we want to get the results out quickly, we prioritize processing everything accurately even if it takes some extra time.”

The post said judges were dropping off equipment at the central counting location at that time.

People still were voting at 8 p.m., about an hour after polls closed, at one poll location, Harris County Elections Administrator Isabel Longoria tweeted.

“Standby, watch the Astros, and we’ll catch you soon,” Longoria said in the Tweet.

The Astros advice probably didn’t help anyone’s mood, but that’s hindsight. The Facebook post in question, which contains video of Longoria explaining what is happening, is here – there are more vids further up the page as well. Campos was furious, called it a “botched” night and an “epic failure”, and expects “outrage” from Commissioners Court. Stace was more measured, saying “these glitches give the County a chance to fix things so we can avoid them when everyone shows up next November”. I lean more in that direction, but I get the frustration – I wore myself out hitting Refresh on Tuesday – and there are a lot of questions to be asked and answered. I will be interested to see how the Court reacts.

Longoria also had this to say, on Twitter:

The line about jail voting refers to this. Not sure where she’s getting the 12% turnout figure from – going by the Election Day totals posted, there were 227,789 votes cast out of 2,482,914 registered voters, for 9.17% turnout. Still, that’s a significant increase from 2017, which had 150,174 ballots cast out of 2,233,533 voters, for 6.72% turnout. That’s a 52% increase in voters, or a 36% increase in turnout as a percentage of registered voters, in a year where there was nothing sexy on the ballot. What gives?

It could be an effect of a more energized Republican base, going to the polls to express their feelings about President Biden. I don’t know that the Constitutional amendments were a great vehicle for that, but maybe the school board races were. Conservative challengers are in runoffs in three races, so maybe that had something to do with it. Here’s a comparison of turnout from 2017 to 2021:


Year  Dist   Votes  Voters  Turnout
===================================
2017     I   9,784  78,479   12.47%
2021     I  10,108  87,671   11.53%

2017     V  12,431  85,309   14.57%
2021     V  17,153  89,123   19.25%

2017    VI   7,399  73,575   10.06%
2021    VI   8,972  77,508   11.58%

2017   VII  12,219  89,177   13.70%
2021   VII  15,596  99,824   15.62%

2017    IX   8,622  84,185   10.24%
2021    IX   8,935  90,067    9.32%

On the one hand, the two races that didn’t prominently feature conservative candidates actually had less turnout (at least percentage-wise) than they did in 2017. On the other hand, outside of the District V race, the increase wasn’t that much. In District VI, it was a jump of 21% in total voters, and 15% in turnout of RVs, and in District VII, it was 27% for voters and 14% for turnout of RVs. Not nothing, but much less than Harris County as a whole. Even District V, at a 38% increase in voters and 32% increase in turnout of RVs, was below the county level.

So who knows? Final turnout was definitely higher than I thought it would be, and in the end it was still the case that almost exactly half of the vote came in on Election Day. Again, more than I thought it would be but still a big step down from 2017, when 59% of the vote was on E-Day. Given the huge turnout in 2020, it may be the case that there are just now more habitual voters. If that’s so, we’ll see some of that effect in 2022 and especially 2023, when the open Mayoral race will also drive people to the polls. I don’t think there are any big conclusions to draw here, but let’s put a pin in this and see what we think a couple of years down the line.

The Housing and Community Development mess

A review of headlines from last week, which I did not have the brain space to do anything with:

Turner fires Houston housing director who accused him of ‘charade’ bid process to benefit developer

Turner names interim housing director in wake of corruption claims by former department head

Turner orders legal review of housing deal at center of ‘charade’ claims by fired housing director

Editorial: Tell the truth, Mayor Turner. Why the ‘charade’ over wasteful housing contract?

I still don’t quite have the brain capacity to make sense of all this. None of it looks good for Mayor Turner, but how things end don’t always reflect how they began. These would be terrible headlines not just for the Mayor but for everyone on City Council if we had elections this year, but we don’t. There may be some echoes of this when the 2023 campaigns roll around, but my guess is that unless there’s something epic inside all of this we will have moved onto many other things by then. At heart, that’s one of the reasons I voted against the proposal back in 2015 to change from two year terms and a limit of three for local elected officials to four year terms with a limit of two. I know a lot of Council members hated having to run every two years, but I believed then and still believe now that there’s value to it. Anyway, here we are. We’ll see how many people remember any of this a month from now, let alone in two years.

What about City Council and redistricting?

Of interest:

The embedded image is a table of population figures for Houston City Council by district, broken down by race and ethnicity. The “target” population for each district, which is to say basically the total city population as enumerated by the Census (2,304,580) divided by 11. That number is 209,507, and as former County Clerk numbers guy Hector DeLeon observes, it’s the mostly Black and Latino districts that would need people added to them to meet that.

Note that the red negative numbers are in relation to the target population. If you want to know how each district has changed since 2011, when City Council was expanded to 11 members, part of a court settlement from some years before, you can review the actual population totals that the districts had at that time here. There’s some variation in there, with a range of 180K to 199K and a target of 190,859. A little variation, up to about five percent in either direction, is tolerated to accommodate other factors like communities of interest.

With that, you can see that districts H and I actually lost a little bit of population, while J is basically the same. To the extent that there was an undercount in Houston, due to COVID and Trump malfeasance and whatever else, those are the districts where you would expect it to manifest. District C grew by about 46K, districts D and G by about 40K each.

The big question is whether or not City Council is required to redistrict. It’s my understanding that the charter mandates a review of population figures to ensure that the districts are not “materially unbalanced”. As you may suspect from that kind of wording, there’s some discretion in there. There’s also some time, since the next city elections are in 2023. HISD has elections in 2021, but their filing deadline has already passed, and there wouldn’t be time to review and redraw their boundaries for this November in any event. So, it’s 2023 for them as well.

The charter referendum will be in 2023

So be it.

The organizations and residents who petitioned the city to give City Council members more power will have to wait until 2023 to vote on the measure, after the council declined to put it on this year’s ballot.

Council voted unanimously to set the election in 2023 instead of this November, despite the objections of several council members and the groups that pushed for the charter amendment. An amendment to put it on this year’s ballot failed, 13-4, before the 2023 vote. Councilmembers Amy Peck, Ed Pollard, Mike Knox and Michael Kubosh supported the earlier date.

The measure would give any three council members the power to place an item on the weekly City Hall agenda, a power almost entirely reserved for the mayor under Houston’s strong-mayor format.

Mayor Sylvester Turner, who opposes the measure, said pushing off the election was prudent so the city could include other pending charter amendments, which would lower the cost by hosting one election instead of several. He also argued an off-cycle election would have low turnout.

“If any of you have problems getting something on the agenda, I’d like to hear that,” Turner told council members. “So, we’re going to spend $1.3 million in a very low-turnout (election) on an issue that doesn’t really pertain to this council?”

[…]

At-Large Councilmember Michael Kubosh likened a delay to voter suppression, a suggestion that irked several of his colleagues. He referred to Democrats in the Legislature who fled to Washington, D.C. to stop a voting restrictions bill.

“If we don’t vote to put this on the ballot, we are doing the same thing (as the Legislature): We are suppressing the vote,” Kubosh said. “I believe voting delayed is voting denied.”

District F Councilmember Tiffany Thomas said he deserved a “Golden Globe for drama,” arguing the later election date would improve access to the polls by encouraging higher turnout.

Kubosh said it does not matter whether officials like the content of the charter amendment; their duty is to put it on the ballot.

I’ve said before that I believe this referendum, as well as the firefighters’ referendum (the petitions have not yet been certified, which is another issue altogether), should be on this November’s ballot. I do think the right thing to do is to be prompt about these things, even though the law allows for the discretion to put the vote on the next city election. But CM Thomas has a point, which is simply that at least twice as many people and maybe more will vote in 2023 than in 2021, and as such having this referendum in 2023 will be closer to a true reflection of the public will. I mean, even with a heavy GOTV effort by the pro- and anti- sides this year, we might be looking at 100K in turnout. Turnout in 2015, the last time we had an open Mayor’s race, was over 270K, and turnout in 2019 was 250K. Turnout in all of Harris County in 2017, with no city of Houston races, was 150K; I can’t calculate the exact city component of that, but based on other years it would have been in the 90-110K range. There’s just no comparison. Is the tradeoff in turnout worth the two-year delay? People can certainly disagree about that, and I sympathize with those who wanted it this year. But putting it in 2023 is legal, and can be justified.

(No, I still have no intention of voting for the “three Council members can put an item on the agenda” referendum. Its proponents may have a point, but their proposition is still a bad idea. I remain undecided on the firefighters’ item.)

July 2021 campaign finance reports: City of Houston

PREVIOUSLY: Congress, Harris County

As we know, this is not an election year for city of Houston offices. That usually makes for a pretty dull summary of finance reports, since it’s just incumbents and about half of them are term-limited and thus not really motivated to do much. But I had last checked on these in January 2020, which was the conclusion of the 2019 election cycle, and I didn’t want to wait till next year for a first look. And you never know what you might find.


Candidate     Raised      Spent     Loan     On Hand
====================================================
Turner       185,055     76,357        0     522,058
Peck          14,915     10,892    5,000      18,072
Jackson       19,700     14,126        0      33,317
Kamin         79,860     10,697        0     115,828
E-Shabazz     36,000     19,879        0      20,468
Martin             0      3,473        0     130,577
Thomas        
Travis        34,950      5,886   21,000      76,500
Cisneros       1,000        456        0      18,296
Gallegos       2,075      8,620        0      77,372
Pollard      280,908     11,371   40,000     303,572
C-Tatum       58,718      6,847        0     117,013
Knox          11,685      4,571        0      16,510
Robinson      58,983     16,085        0     149,046
Kubosh        60,910     24,318  206,010      65,667
Plummer       30,770      6,417    8,175      33,010
Alcorn         3,200      5,251        0      31,013
Brown         24,550      3,892   75,000      19,281

Edwards            0      2,580        0      45,081

Sorry, no links to individual reports this time – the city of Houston’s reporting system spits out downloaded PDFs, which I have to rename and upload to Google Drive to be able to provide links for them, and it ain’t worth the effort at this point. I’ll do that in 2023, when things heat up.

One of these things is not like the others. I’ve been asking folks who they think will run for Mayor in 2023, partly to see how my own speculations have turned out. One name that has come up a lot is that of Ed Pollard, the first-term Council member in District J. Let’s just say his July report does nothing to temper that kind of talk. To put it mildly, one does not need $300K to run for re-election in a low-turnout district like J, and that’s more than two years out from the actual election. Pollard may have his eye on something else, of course – he ran for HD137 in 2016, and who knows what opportunities the next round of redistricting may present – but if one is being mentioned when the question of “who is thinking about running for Mayor” comes up, this is the kind of finance report that supports such talk.

Other names that come up when I bring up the question include Michael Kubosh, Chris Brown, and Amanda Edwards. Neither of the first two has raised all that much, though they both have the capability. Kubosh has knocked $60K off his loan total, which may have contributed to his lower cash-on-hand total. As for Edwards, she’s the opposite of Pollard at this point.

The one person who has been openly talked about as a candidate – by someone other than me, anyway – is Sen. John Whitmire, who has enough cash in his treasury to not sweat the small stuff. He recently announced his intent to run for re-election in 2022, which is completely unsurprising and not in conflict with any 2023 speculation. Mayor Turner ran for and won re-election in HD139 in 2014 before officially beginning his Mayoral campaign in 2015.

Beyond that, not a whole lot to report. Mayor Turner has some money on hand if he wants to influence a charter amendment or two. CM Tiffany Thomas did not have a report that I could find – sometimes, the system is a little wonky that way. The only other number of note was for term-limited CM David Robinson, who has added over $100K to his cash on hand since last January. Maybe that’s a sign that he has his eye on another race, and maybe that just means that some people are good at fundraising. I’ll leave that to you. Next up, HISD and HCC. Let me know what you think.

Appeals court overturns verdict in firefighter pay parity lawsuit

Wow.

An appeals court on Thursday reversed a ruling that declared Houston firefighters’ pay-parity measure unconstitutional, a major win for the fire union and one that could have far-reaching effects on city finances.

The fire union won approval of a charter amendment, known as Proposition B, in 2018 that would have granted them equal pay with police officers of similar rank and seniority. The city and the police officers’ union quickly sued, though, and in 2019 a trial court ruled the referendum unconstitutional because it contradicted state law that governs how cities engage with police officers and firefighters. The voter-approved charter amendment was never implemented.

In its ruling, the Fourteenth Court of Appeals in Houston said that was an error. Justice Meagan Hassan wrote in a 2-1 opinion that the Texas Legislature did not intend to stop cities from enacting such pay measures.

“Preemption is not a conclusion lightly reached — if the Legislature intended to preempt a subject matter normally within a home-rule city’s broad powers, that intent must be evidenced with ‘unmistakable clarity,’” Hassan wrote.

The justices sent the case back to the lower court. Both the city and the police union said they plan to appeal the ruling.

It was not immediately clear when the city would have to implement the pay parity measure.

[…]

Controller Chris Brown, the city’s independently elected fiscal watchdog, said the ruling was disappointing and concerning from a financial perspective. He said the administration and union need to iron out a collective bargaining agreement so the city knows how much it will have to pay if Prop B is upheld and back wages are owed. It could be in the ballpark of $250 million to $350 million, he said, adding the city and union could agree to pay that money over several years instead of all at once.

“We need to have certainty on the ultimate financial impact to the city,” he said. “I have a concern because ultimately, the taxpayers are going to foot this bill… If we do have a big, one-time payment, where’s that money going to come from?”

Good question. See here for the background here for the majority ruling, and here for the dissent. I would imagine this will be put on hold pending appeal to the Supreme Court, so we’re probably looking at another two years or so before this is resolved. It’s possible that the Mayor and the firefighters could hammer out a collective bargaining agreement that would moot this, or perhaps the next Mayor could, if the Supreme Court decides to wait till after the 2023 election to hand down a ruling. I wouldn’t bet on that, but it is theoretically possible.

Council will decide when charter amendment votes will be

Fine, but they should be this year.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner on Wednesday promised to bring a charter amendment petition to City Council before a key August deadline to order an election for this year.

A diverse coalition of groups, including the Houston Professional Firefighters Association Local 341 and the Harris County Republican Party, delivered the petition in April, and the city secretary confirmed the signatures earlier this month. The measure would allow any three council members to place an item on the council agenda, a power almost entirely reserved for the mayor under the city’s strong-mayor format.

The council can put the charter amendment on the ballot this November or during the next city elections, which are in November 2023. Turner said he was not sure the city would order an election this year, prompting concern among petition organizers and supporters, who have sought an election in November. The last day to order an election for this year is Aug. 16.

“It will come before you, and this council will decide whether it goes on this year’s ballot or on the next city ballot,” Turner told his colleagues at the City Council meeting Wednesday. “I won’t be making that decision, we will be making that decision.”

The fire union is pushing a separate charter petition, which it delivered to City Hall last week, that would make binding arbitration the automatic resolution to contract impasses. The city and union have been in a deadlock since 2017, and have contested the contract talks in court battles.

[…]

The mayor said the city has to decide if it is going to take each charter petition individually, or if it would be smarter to lump them together in a single election, “which, from a cost perspective, would be quite wise,” he said.

“What we will have to decide is whether or not you do these one at a time, and every time you put it out there it’s a cost to the city (to run the election),” Turner said. “Now, there’s another one that was just delivered to the city secretary (last) week… Let’s say that gets the requisite signatures, do we do another election on that one?”

The fate of the most recent petition from the fire union is less clear. Turner said it takes the city secretary an average of three months to count the signatures, even with added personnel the mayor says he has approved for their office. That would mean workers likely will not finish verifying them before the Aug. 16 deadline to order an election.

The union has alleged the city is slow-walking the count for the second petition. The Texas Election Code allows the city to use statistical sampling to verify the signatures, instead of vetting them individually, as the city is doing now.

See here and here for the background. Sampling has been used before, in 2003 for a different firefighter initiative, but I don’t think it is commonly used. Not sure what the objections are to that. I say do them both in the same election, and it should be this election. I’d rather just get them done, if only from a cost perspective.

Charter amendment referendum likely #2 on its way

Pending signature verification.

The Houston firefighters’ union says it has collected enough signatures on a petition to make it easier to bring contract talks with the city to binding arbitration.

The city secretary now must verify at least 20,000 signatures, the minimum threshold for getting a petition-driven initiative on the ballot. The petition drive is one of two the Houston Professional Fire Fighters is pushing for this November, along with one that would give council members more power to place items on the City Council agenda.

The city secretary verified signatures for the first petition, filed in April, last week. A broader coalition is advocating for that proposal, as well.

The union has said it hopes to place both items on the November ballot, although Mayor Sylvester Turner has signaled the city may not comply with those wishes. The mayor said last week a required council vote to place the items on the ballot may not happen this year.

“There is no obligation, I think, on our part to put anything on the ballot for this year,” Turner said then.

State law does not lay out a specific timeline for when council must take that vote, though it does require it to do so. The last day to order an election for November would be Aug. 16.

When the council does vote, it has two options for selecting the date: the next uniform election date, which would be November 2021; or the next municipal or presidential election, whichever is earlier. That would be the November 2023 in this case.

Marty Lancton, president of the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association Local 341, said it does not matter whether the city is allowed to push off the election; it should respect the will of the petitioners and place the initiative on the November ballot. He said the union is prepared to go to court to get the charter amendments on the ballot this year.

See here for more about the other charter amendment referendum. I’m inclined to support this one, but I haven’t paid much attention to it yet so I’ll want to hear more before I make a final decision.

As for when to have the referendum, I’ll just say this much: Baseline turnout in 2021, a non-municipal election year, where the only items that will be on everyone’s ballot are the constitutional amendments (none of which are exactly well known at this point) and only some people will have actual candidates to vote for, is about 50K. Baseline turnout in 2023, when there will be an open seat Mayoral race, is at least 200K, probably at least 250K. Turnout in 2015, with HERO repeal also on the ballot, was over 270K, and in 2019, with the Metro referendum also on there, it was over 250K.

Point being, in 2021 you start with the hardcore voters, who have probably heard something about your issue and whose support you hope to earn, and seek to get lesser-engaged folks who agree with you to show up. In 2023, you have to put a lot more effort into persuasion, just because so many more people will be casting ballots, and many of them will start out knowing nothing about the issue. A lot of those less-engaged voters from scenario #1 are more likely to show up because of the Mayor’s race. Your message here is one part about introducing them to your issue, and one part about voting all the way down the ballot, because the charter amendments are at the bottom and you want to make sure they don’t miss them.

Given that, it’s a reasonable question to ask which environment you’d rather be in for the purpose of passing your referendum. It’s not clear that one is inherently more advantageous than the other, but the strategy for each is different. Needless to say, the 2023 scenario is more expensive, though a sufficiently funded referendum effort can have a significant effect on turnout, even in a 2023-type situation. The platonic ideal is for higher turnout since that is a truer reflection of the will of the people, but you want your item to pass, and you play the hand you’re dealt.

Now having said all that, I think if the petition signatures are collected and certified in time for the item to be on the next ballot, that’s when it should be voted on. I don’t know what Mayor Turner’s motivation may be for preferring to wait until 2023, which he is allowed to do. I just think we should have the votes this year.