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Sustaining the Harris County Democrats’ success

All things considered, I feel reasonably optimistic about Democratic prospects in Harris County going forward, but I felt that way in 2008 as well, so I certainly understand the inclination to be cautious.

Democrats swept Harris County last Tuesday in nothing short of a rout, claiming every countywide position on the ballot as Hillary Clinton toppled Donald Trump by more than 12 points – a larger margin of victory than George W. Bush enjoyed here in either of his presidential bids.

That edge – and the domino effect it had on local races – exceeded many Democrats’ most optimistic projections. It also fueled speculation that the nation’s largest swing county soon could be reliably blue.

Yet some on the left still worry that, absent Trump, the party’s decentralized coalition could make that transformation a tall order near-term, despite favorable demographic shifts.

“It’s not something that’s going to be sustained with the party infrastructure we have right now,” local Democratic direct mail vendor Ryan Slattery said, recalling the party’s trouncing in 2010, two years after President Barack Obama won the county. “You’ll always have this ebb and flow.”

Former Mayor Annise Parker agreed the party “has underperformed in the past” but was more hopeful.

“In this election cycle, both the Harris County Democratic Party in its official leadership and committed Democrats came together and we all played nicely,” Parker said. “The way we swept Harris County down here and knowing the way midterm elections generally go, it might be a pretty good place to be a Democrat in two years and even four years.”

[…]

Concurrently, the share of county residents who identified as Democrats rose steeply, to 48 percent from 35 percent, according to the Kinder Institute’s Houston Area Survey. The percentage of Republicans fell to 30 percent from 37 percent.

Democrats have harnessed that momentum in presidential election years but floundered in the interim, when Republicans capitalized on national political discontent and lower turnout.

After earning nearly 48,000 more straight-ticket votes than Republicans did in 2008, Democrats lost the straight-ticket vote by nearly 50,000 votes in 2010 and 44,000 votes in 2014. They earned nearly 3,000 more straight-ticket votes in 2012 and 70,000 this year.

I’ll repeat my mantra here: Conditions in 2018 are going to be different than they were in 2010 and 2014. I don’t know what they will be like, and it’s certainly possible they could be worse, but they pretty much have to be different by definition. I’ll also say again that after this election, it’s hard to argue the proposition that there are more Democrats in the county than there are Republicans. Doesn’t mean there will be more Democratic voters in a given election, and things can always change, but as they stand today we have a bigger pool than they do. Put aside the Hillary/Trump numbers, and consider that in this election, the average Republican judicial candidate received about 606,000 votes, and the average Democratic judicial candidate received about 661,000. There are more Ds than Rs.

One corollary of this is that Dems don’t necessarily need a boost in turnout, at least on a percentage basis, to have a bright outlook for 2018. Remember, the turnout rate this year was lower than it had been in 2012, but the sheer increase in voter registrations led to the higher turnout total. It’s my contention, based on the average judicial race numbers from 2012 to 2016, that the bulk of those new registrants were Dems. Base turnout is an issue in off year elections until the results show that it isn’t, but I believe we are starting out in a more favorable position than we have done before.

So with this in mind, here are the things I would recommend Democrats in Harris County do to get the kind of outcome we want in 2018:

– Don’t be discouraged by what happened nationally. That’s going to be hard, because there’s going to be a lot of bad things happening, and not a whole lot that can be done to stop it. What we need to do here is remember that old adage about acting locally, and channel the frustration and anger we will feel into local organizing and action. Harris County Democrats had a really good 2016. We can have a good 2018 as well. Let’s keep our focus on that.

– It all starts with the candidates. There are three important county offices that will need candidates – County Judge, which has now been complicated by Judge Ed Emmett’s announcement that he plans to run for re-election instead of retiring as had been thought, County Clerk, and Commissioner in Precinct 2. (Yes, District Clerk and County Treasurer are also on the ballot, but with all due respect they don’t have the ability to affect policy that these offices do. Also, HCDE At Large Trustee Diane Trautman will be up for re-election, but unless she decides to step down that candidacy will be accounted for.) I’m not going to get into the candidate speculation business right now – there will be plenty of time for that later – but we need good candidates, and we need to ensure that they fully engage in the primary process. The last thing we need is a Lloyd Oliver-style failure.

– I’ve talked about this several times over the years, but one thing that stands out in the 2016 data that I’ve seen so far is that the rising tide of Democratic voters didn’t just come from the traditional Democratic places, but from all over the county. The end result of that was that a lot of districts that had been previously seen as Republican were less so this year. That in turn means two things: One, there are more opportunities to make serious challenges in State Rep districts, in particular HDs 135, 138, 132, and 126. Lining up good candidates for these districts is a must. Two, we need to recognize that there are lots of Democrats in these and other Republican-held State Rep districts, and that we have to do at least as good a job connecting with them as we do with Dems in the places we know and are used to dealing with if we want to sustain and build on our gains from this year.

– That bit I said before about Dems not necessarily needing a big boost in turnout level to be in a winning position? The key to that was that even with turnout percentage being down a bit, the overall turnout total was higher, and the reason for that was the large increase in voter registration. We absolutely need to keep doing that. This may have been the secret to our success this year. Let’s not let up on it.

I can’t say Harris County Dems will be successful in 2018. Hell, at this point no one can say anything about the future with any degree of certainty. I’ve highlighted the things that I believe are important. There will be a lot to talk about and a lot to do before we get to any of that.

Appeals Court judge Terry Jennings switches parties

Cool.

Justice Terry Jennings

Justice Terry Jennings

It was just after presiding over a same-sex wedding, in January, that the formerly Republican Justice Terry Jennings, of the Texas First Court of Appeals, started thinking more seriously about changing his party affiliation.

Jennings had been considering becoming a Democrat for years as he grew increasingly dissatisfied with the way the Republican Party had trended toward the fringes, turning “moderate” into a dirty word, he said. And as his children, two daughters in college and a son in high school, continued to ask their dad why he still identified as a Republican, Jennings said the question continued to grow harder to answer.

Then came the wedding.

When others commented to him that deciding to preside over a same-sex wedding was a decision many other Republican judges may not have made, “that’s when I started thinking, Well maybe I’m not in the right party then,” Jennings told the Houston Press in an interview Monday.

The change-over makes him the only Democrat among the nine justices on the First Court of Appeals. Democrats make up just 12 of 73 jurists on the state’s 14 courts of appeal.

Jennings made the formal announcement at the Harris County Democratic Party’s Johnson, Rayburn and Richards fundraising dinner on Saturday evening, saying “today’s Republican Party has chosen a dark path I cannot take.” Elected in 2000 to the First Court of Appeals (which hears Harris County civil cases), Jennings said he was once proud to call himself a member of the Republican Party, and had always considered himself a conservative judge who applied the law just as it was written. Now, however, Jennings says his principles no longer align with those of the GOP.

“It’s just a party I didn’t feel comfortable being a member of anymore,” he told the Press. “You’ve heard the common expression a thousand times: I didn’t leave my party; my party left me. And it’s true.”

I got a blast email from HCDP Chair Lane Lewis about this on Monday. As you know, I’m hoping he’ll have some company on the 1st Court after this election. Whether that happens or not, his term is up in 2018, and as the story notes, he’s not sure if he wants to run for another term. Solving the turnout problem so that this is a question with more than one viable answer would be nice. In the meantime, welcome aboard, Justice Jennings. The Chron has more.

Once more on HD146

Christopher Hooks from the Observer was at Saturday’s festivities, and he files his report.

Shawn Thierry

Shawn Thierry

And on Saturday, 24 precinct chairs met in a small room full of folding chairs at the Sunnyside Multi-Service Center in south Houston to pick Miles’ replacement. They adjudicated a fierce contest between [Shawn] Thierry and Erica Lee Carter, member of the Harris County Board of Education and, more importantly, daughter of longtime Houston congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee.

Most years see no races resolved this way in Houston, but this year, there have been five such elections, including two minor judicial races. The campaigns to win them are very unusual. With the public completely out of the picture, candidates focus herculean efforts on pleasing the personal whims of precinct chairs, minor party functionaries who ordinarily have very little say in anything. And because Democratic nominees are essentially guaranteed a win in November in the five races so far resolved, and because incumbents can last a long time, this summer’s votes may be the last contested election Ellis, Miles and Thierry ever face.

[…]

Finally, the vote. In the first round of ballots, Blackmon took one chair, leaving Thierry with 12 and Lee Carter with 11. The lone Blackmon supporter, Craig Holtzclaw, would have to re-vote in the second round and act as a potential tiebreaker.

Bizarrely, committees like this are so rarely formed that party laws don’t really have any guidance about what to do in the event of a tied vote, apart from running the vote over and over again. If Holtzclaw had voted for Lee Carter in the second round, things could have gotten messy.

But he picked Thierry, who will now be heading to Austin soon with a sweeping mandate of two votes. Lee Carter’s dejected supporters left the room, and Thierry’s gathered to pray together, thanking God for the guidance he had shown members of the Harris County Democratic Party.

Afterwards, I talked to Holtzclaw, the tiebreaker, who said he had taken his responsibility seriously, talking to all three candidates for more than an hour apiece. “This is a unique opportunity to practice republican deliberation — as in, a real republic,” he said. During the interrogations, he had asked them to recount their personal stories, their accomplishments, dreams and hopes, “and then I gave them a long sermon on what I believe,” and measured their beliefs to his.

Holtzclaw made a decent case for what seems on the surface like a foolish system. He held, it turned out, the fate of House District 146 in his hands, and might have just selected its representation in Austin for many years. And he had done his homework.

But what is it Holtzclaw believes, exactly? “I am a LaRouche Democrat,” he said, as in yet another acolyte of the infamous semi-cult leader who thinks Obama is Hitler, has argued that the Queen of England controls the global drug trade, and who wants to colonize space. Ah.

Holtzclaw said he had voted for the candidates who communicated to him that they were willing to take elements of the LaRouche platform to Austin, namely, telling all those tea-party Texas Republicans that we need “big government investment in infrastructure.” That’s what LaRouche calls “the science of physical economy.”

Blackmon and Thierry, he said, had seemed to embrace that line more than Lee Carter. And that’s why she lost, in part.

See here for my writeup from Sunday. Let me start by noting that the same provision of electoral law cited by Gerry Birnberg to settle the tie for convention chair would have applied in the event of a tie between Thierry and Carter as well, which is to say that the winner would have been determined by a coin toss. Roll your eyes if you want, but it’s there in the law, and if you can think of a fairer way of resolving an electoral tie than that, I’m all ears.

Hooks’ article got shared around quite a bit yesterday, with no small amount of snarky commentary from people whom I did not see at any of these precinct chair meetings, all with something pithy to say about “turnout” and “process”. Let me point out that 24 out of 26 precinct chairs in attendance represents 92% turnout, which I’m pretty sure would beat any other election in recent memory you’d care to find. It beats the pants off of the usual turnout levels for special elections and their runoffs, which often struggle to break into double digits, and which draw the same kind of disdainful remarks about apathy and disengagement and so on and so forth. We get it already. At least the precinct chairs bothered to show up.

And though I used similar language in my own report, I don’t care for the framing that this one chair picked the next Representative. He put Shawn Thierry over the top, but she’d gotten to the top without him. Everybody else’s vote meant as much to her election, his just happened to be the last one counted.

Finally, as far as who will or won’t face competitive races going forward, I tend to agree that Rodney Ellis won’t see too many as Commissioner. Which is to say, he won’t face any more than El Franco Lee did, or that Ellis himself did as Senator. Borris Miles won’t face the voters again till 2020, and I feel confident saying that people will be watching him, to see if he can harness his considerable talents and keep his demons under control. The answers to those questions will determine whether he can coast next time or not. As for Thierry, I’ll say again that I fully expect her to be challenged in 2018. There’s no shortage of politicos in that district, and the obscure path she took to win the seat this time means that she hasn’t faced a true test there yet. I will be surprised if she gets to skate in two years.

Thierry wins HD146 nomination

Our long strange trip is finally over.

Shawn Thierry

Shawn Thierry

Democratic party precinct chairs chose their replacement Saturday morning for a vacant spot on the party’s November ballot. Attorney Shawn Thierry secured the nomination for House District 146, a seat left empty after a series of changes following the death of former Harris County Commissioner El Franco Lee.

After Sen. Rodney Ellis was chosen to replace Lee as the Democratic nominee for Precinct 1 commissioner, Rep. Boris Miles was tapped to fill Ellis’ legislative seat. This took Miles off the ballot for the District 146 seat, opening up the nomination.

Thierry, 47, edged out candidates Erica Lee Carter, a Harris County Board of Education trustee and daughter of U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, and Larry Blackmon, a former educator and City Council candidate.

After one round of voting by raising hands, Thierry had 12 votes, Carter had 11 and Blackmon 1. This led to an immediate runoff between Thierry and Carter, with a request for a change of voting procedure. Instead of raising hands, precinct chairs stood in line next to their candidate of choice. This time, Thierry beat Carter by two votes.

I was there for this as promised, and there were sizable contingents for Thierry and Carter, the latter of which included her mother, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee. Blackmon was the only other candidate present, at least as far as I know. If Valencia Williams was present, no one pointed her out to me, and as for James Donatto, I am told he had not lived in the district long enough to be eligible.

A sense for how things would be came during the vote to select a presiding chair for the convention. There were two nominees for Chair, Jill Moffitt and Priscilla Bloomquist. The vote to decide who would serve as Chair ended in a dead tie, 12 to 12. Gerry Birnberg, serving as Parliamentarian, then informed the room that per state election law, in the event of a tie the winner would be determined by the candidates “casting lots”. Which is to say, HCDP Chair Lane Lewis flipped a coin. Moffitt, as the first person nominated, called “Heads”. It came up Tails, so Bloomquist took over as Chair.

After getting the positions of Secretary, Parliamentarian, and Timekeeper settled, the three candidates were nominated – Thierry, Carter, and Blackmon, in that order. Each was given three minutes to speak (which they had agreed to beforehand), going in alphabetical order. Blackmon spoke of his service on various City committees, and of the need for a “medical corridor” in the district. Carter, who currently serves as HCDE Trustee from Precinct 1, emphasized that she already had experience fighting for the district and against the Tea Party; she specifically called out Sen. Paul Bettencourt and Rep. Debbie Riddle for trying to kill the HCDE and the services it provides. She also mentioned other priorities for the district, including health care and improving neighborhoods. Thierry touched on most of the same points as Carter while stressing her ties to the district, citing the schools in HD146 that she had attended. The Chron story says that among other things she said she plans to “focus on school vouchers”, which has to be in error; for one, I don’t remember her saying that word, and for two, she’d have been booed out of the room if she had. She did exceed her three minuts allotment by quite a bit, and more or less had the microphone taken from her by Chair Bloomquist.

The vote went as noted in the story, with Birnberg informing us that for these purposes, having exactly half the votes does not constitute a majority. What that meant in practice was that the deciding vote in the runoff was cast by the one precinct chair who had nominated and in the first round voted for Larry Blackmon. Had he gone over to Carter’s side, we’d have had another coin flip. But he didn’t, so Thierry got her majority. For what it’s worth, according to some of the people I spoke to, at least two of the three precinct chairs who were not in attendance (one was reportedly in the hospital, and the other at the hospital with her husband) had been in Carter’s camp. If just those two had shown up, it would have been 13-12-1 in the first round, with that same chair then forcing the coin toss he’d helped us avoid in these circumstances. As they say, you can’t make this stuff up.

So the summer of the precinct chair comes to a close. My congratulations to Shawn Thierry for the victory – I wish you all the best in Austin. As I said about HD139 after the lackluster turnout in the runoff for now-Rep. Jarvis Johnson, I will not be surprised if there is a lively primary in HD146 in two years. Heck, there have been lively primaries in HD146 nearly every cycle since 2006, so why should 2018 be an exception? But this November is between now and then, and that’s what really matters. The Trib and BOR have more.

HD146 nomination process is today

You know the drill.

Borris Miles

Borris Miles

Twenty-seven southwest Houston precinct chairs are set to tap a replacement for Democratic state Rep. Borris Miles on Saturday, the third time in less than two months many of them have convened to fill a hole on the party’s November ballot for non-judicial seats.

The vacancy is the latest result of former Harris County Commissioner El Franco Lee’s death in January, which set off a chain of openings. Precinct chairs in June selected state Sen. Rodney Ellis to replace Lee as the Democratic nominee for Precinct 1 commissioner, and they later chose Miles to fill Ellis’ legislative seat.

At least four candidates are running to represent Miles’ district of more than 175,000, which stretches from Sharpstown to Sunnyside.

Harris County Board of Education Trustee Erica Lee Carter and attorney Shawn Theirry are seen as frontrunners, with former City Council candidate Larry Blackmon and activist Valencia Williams also seeking the Democratic nod for District 146.

[…]

Precinct chair Tiffany Hogue, of Brays Oaks, discussed the challenge of trying to represent the views of her constituents, as well as the opinions of those in surrounding areas who do not have a precinct chair.

“A process that people never expected to use has been used three times in the course of a month and a half,” referring to the Democratic Party meetings to replace Lee, Ellis and Miles.

“We’ve definitely seen some of the pros and cons of filling vacancies on ballots this way.”

See here for the background. As this is now the second sequel to the process to replace El Franco Lee on the ballot, there have been plenty of complaints about how we go about doing it. I don’t have a whole lot of patience for the complaints – everyone is welcome to address them to their legislators, along with their proposed alternative method – but it has been strange, and it has consumed a whole lot of time and energy.

The good news is that this was a particularly singular set of circumstances, whose like we will probably never see again. For that matter, I couldn’t tell you when this process was last used to fill a vacancy for something other than a newly-created office. The Republicans almost went through it back in 2006 when Tom DeLay tried to declare himself “ineligible” to run for re-election. He was later ruled to have withdrawn and could not be replaced, but until a final ruling came in there was candidate activity by various interested parties (then-State Rep. Bob Talton was considered the frontrunner) prior to what would have been the selection. Before that, I have no idea when this was last done. Anyone out there recall a previous instance?

Anyway. As before, you’re only actually running for this if someone nominates you, and for a 27-voter universe the old saw about every vote counting has never been more accurate. Erica Lee Carter, whom the Chron endorsed on Wednesday, would seem to be the favorite, but we won’t know till it’s over. I’ll have a report tomorrow.

HD146 nomination process to take place on August 6

Mark your calendars.

Borris Miles

Rep. Borris Miles

Last Saturday, State Rep. Borris Miles secured the Democratic nomination to replace Senator Rodney Ellis for Senate District 13. As a result, Rep. Miles will have to vacate his seat in House District 146. Precinct chairs will convene again to select a replacement nominee for House District 146.

The replacement process will take place at the House District 146 Executive Committee Meeting on Saturday, August 6, 2016 at 10 AM. The event is open to the public, however only precinct chairs that reside in the district are allowed to nominate.

House District 146 Executive Committee Meeting
Sunnyside Multi-Service Center (map)
August 6, 2016
10:00 AM-12 PM
9314 Cullen Blvd
Houston, TX 77051

Nominations will be accepted from and voted on by the precinct chairs in attendance at the August 6th meeting. The replacement candidate does not have to register or announce a candidacy; there is no legal filing process. However, any individuals interested in the vacancy are encouraged to contact the Harris County Democratic Party Headquarters to complete an Unofficial Declaration of Interest Form.

This form helps HCDP keep track of all interested candidates and brings some organization to the process. Candidates listed below have either given written notice or expressed interest in the HD 146 seat. There may be other individuals interested in running. Here are the potential candidates:

1. Erica Lee Carter

2. Larry Blackmon

3. Valencia L. Williams

4. Rashad L. Cave

5. Shawn Thierry

6. James Donatto

I should be able to make it to this. Here’s what I can tell you about the candidates:

Erica Lee Carter is the HCDE Trustee in Precinct 1, elected in 2012. Here’s the interview I did with her for that primary. If she wins the nomination and is subsequently elected in November, the HCDE Board would select a new member to fill her seat until her term would be up at the end of 2018. And yes, if you didn’t know, Carter is the daughter of US Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee.

Larry Blackmon has been a candidate for City Council a few times, most recently in 2015 for At Large #4. I have not done any interviews with him, but there are a couple of links to Q&As he did elsewhere on my Election 2015 page.

– Valencia L. Williams – I got nothing.

Rashad Cave – Per his bio, Cave is a “Motivational Speaker, businessman, entrepreneur, and father”.

Shawn Thierry was the runnerup for the 507th Family District Court; her Q&A for that is here. She was supported by the Mostyns during her run for the 507th; we’ll see if that translates to this election.

James Donatto II is as noted before a board member of the Greater Houston Black Chamber, and his father is a committee chair on the Houston Southeast Management District.

There are not a lot of precinct chairs in HD146 – I believe the number I heard at the SD13 event was 27 – so to say the least this will be a tight process. If you have anything to add about any of these candidates, please leave a comment.

SD13 nomination process update

Two possible candidates have taken themselves out of the running.

Sen. Rodney Ellis

Sen. Rodney Ellis

State Rep. Garnet Coleman and former City Councilman C.O. Bradford have decided not to run for Rodney Ellis’ state Senate seat, citing a desire to retain seniority in the state House and concerns about the electoral process, respectively.

That leaves state Reps. Senfronia Thompson and Borris Miles, and former City Controller Ron Green vying for Senate District 13, which stretches from northeast Fort Bend County to Houston’s northeast corner.

[…]

“At this moment in time, I believe I can serve my constituents better in the House,” Coleman, who took office in 1991, told the Chronicle Thursday. “You don’t have to be a senator to affect the process, and I know that I have the ability to affect the process in the House, and it would be much better than the Senate.”

C.O. Bradford also was considering joining the race, but said Tuesday that he had decided against it because of the requirement that precinct chairs vote publicly.

“Casting a secret ballot is considered almost sacred in the democratic process,” Bradford said. “I opt not to pressure citizens to compete and cast open votes that defy a very meaningful component of our democracy.”

I didn’t get the sense that anyone had an issue with that on Thursday night, but then maybe it was only those chairs who were okay with it that showed up. One could always get involved with the party if one wishes to change the operating rules by which the party abides, which it adopts at its biennial conventions. Rep. Coleman sent out a press release just prior to Thursday’s meeting at which the judicial nominees were chosen, citing his seniority in the House and position as Chair of the County Affairs Committee and Legislative Study Group Caucus as reasons for staying put. Barring any unexpected entries at this point – a few of us were speculating on Thursday about CM Boykins, but no one had any information – or fringe candidates, the lineup appears to be set with Rep. Thompson, Rep. Miles, and former Controller Green. All three were there on Thursday night as well; they provided the food for the meeting, which was greatly appreciated given that we were all there till after 9:30.

As HCDP Chair Lane Lewis noted at the beginning of Thursday’s meeting, SD13 covers both Harris and Fort Bend counties, so it is the state party’s role to call the convention at which the next nominee for SD13 will be selected. He said that was set for Saturday, July 16, at 10 AM at the CWA hall (the same location as for the Commissioners Court nomination process), and that it was open to the public if one wanted to observe. I may do that myself if my schedule allows. I will be happy to observe and not participate this time.

Maldonado and Jordan win court nominations

Last night at the quarterly Harris County Democratic Party County Executive Committee meeting, HCDP precinct chairs selected the nominees for the two newly-created judicial positions. It was a long meeting – it took some time to sign all the precinct chairs in, and there was some normal business to conduct before we got to the voting – but it was a civil process, with no challenges to the way it was conducted.

For the 507th Family District Court, the six candidates that I have been writing about here were all duly nominated and seconded, with no other candidates showing up at the last minute. Each had two minutes to speak, then we voted, using division of the house as we eventually did this past Saturday. This took the longest amount of time, as there were a lot of people moving around and a lot of noses to count, but in the end the top two candidates were Shawn Thierry and Julia Maldonado. After those totals were agreed upon, the voters for the other candidates had the opportunity to join one of those two remaining groups. Maldonado wound up collecting the bulk of the other candidates’ supporters, and won the runoff by the margin of 123 to 115.

The County Criminal Court at Law #16 process was much quicker, as there were only three candidates and it was easier dividing the room into discrete groupings. Darrell Jordan and Raul Rodriguez were the leaders, and after David Singer’s supporters made their second choice, Jordan maintained his lead and won the nomination.

I voted for Maldonado in both rounds for the 507th, and for Singer followed by Rodriguez in the 16th. Both were tough choices, and I didn’t really settle on whom to support until I was there. I was happy with all of the candidates, and they each acquitted themselves well in their brief speeches. Congratulations to Maldonado and Jordan for coming out on top.

There was a lot of energy in the room, and even as we all left, I got the sense that people were still basically happy, whether their candidates had won or not. It’s a good feeling going forward.

Ellis wins Precinct 1 nomination

In the end, it wasn’t close.

Sen. Rodney Ellis

Sen. Rodney Ellis

State Sen. Rodney Ellis on Saturday won the Democratic nomination for Precinct 1 Commissioner, effectively guaranteeing the veteran lawmaker the office.

Ellis will be sacrificing 26 years in the Texas senate to become the next commissioner, an often overlooked but powerful local office. He will take over from current Precinct 1 commissioner Gene Locke in January, who also ran for the office and was seen as Ellis’ top opponent.

Saturday’s nomination ends one of the most unusual campaigns in recent history. Longtime Commissioner El Franco Lee, who represented Precinct 1 for more than 30 years, died in January while still on the March 1 primary ballot, leaving the choice for who will run as the Democratic candidate to 125 precinct chairs.

There is no Republican opponent in November, all but guaranteeing victory to Ellis.

[…]

A week before the nomination meeting, Ellis claimed he had the support of more than half of the precinct chairs, effectively claiming victory. He also claimed the endorsement of Lee’s widow.

He will be the only Democrat on the court, which has four other Republican members.

The Precinct 1 commissioner represents 1.2 million people and controls a budget of more than $200 million.

The precinct convention that ultimately placed Ellis on the ballot was a wild affair, with a ton of people of varying interests in attendance. The precinct chairs that were to vote had to check in and be verified, at which time we got a name tag that we wore allowing us to sit down front, where we would ultimately vote. Ellis and Locke had the largest contingencies, with many Ellis supporters wearing navy blue Ellis T-shirts. (This led to an objection by one precinct chair, who cited election law about campaign materials not being too close to where elections are held. It was ruled out of order on the grounds that by law this was a precinct convention and a party function, not an election.)

There were a few motions made about who was and wasn’t eligible to participate, and a lot of noise about the process to elect a convention chair. Rules allow the chair, which at the beginning was HCDP Chair Lane Lewis, to select the method of voting from a set of possible choices. After a voice vote on the convention chair was indeterminate, a “division of the house” process, in which supporters of each candidate went to different locations to be counted, was done. Once that was settled and a secretary was elected, we eventually got around to the main event.

Four candidates were nominated for the position. In order of their nomination, they were Nat West, Dwight Boykins, Rodney Ellis, and Gene Locke. I was a little surprised that no one else’s name came up, but that’s how it went. Among other things, it meant that Ellis was the only nominated candidate to have filled out the HCDP questionnaire. Each candidate got two minutes to address the crowd; motions to give them five minutes, and to allow two other supporters to speak on their behalf were loudly voted down. Division of the house was used for this vote. Nat West, who as a precinct chair nominated himself, had two votes. Dwight Boykins appeared to have about ten or so; he then declared that he was withdrawing, and from what I could tell all of his supporters went over to Gene Locke. In the end, Ellis had 78 votes, Locke had 36 (BOR reported 46; I’m pretty sure that’s a mis-hearing of the announced total), and West had two. There was no need for a runoff.

I’m very glad this is over, but this is just part of what needs to be done. There’s still the county convention for the judicial candidates on Thursday; several of those candidates, for the two different benches, were in attendance yesterday. With the selection of Ellis for the County Commissioner spot, there is now a vacancy for SD13. Candidates for that position were in attendance as well.

Ellis now must withdraw from the November ballot in Senate District 13, which covers a swath of southwest Houston. He will be replaced on the ballot by whichever Democrat can win the support of a majority of the precinct chairs in the district. The replacement will run unopposed in November.

At least three state representatives from the area are said to be interested in Ellis’ seat in the Senate: Garnet Coleman, Borris Miles and Senfronia Thompson.

Miles and Thompson were there yesterday, with the former handing out yard signs and the latter passing out pamphlets. I will not be surprised if other names surface for this – as with this position, being nominated is akin to being elected, as there are no other candidates on the November ballot – but the lesson to take from today is that just because one says one is running does not mean one will eventually be nominated to be a candidate. Also, I am not in SD13, so this is officially Not My Problem. I’ll do my part in the CEC meeting on Thursday, then I’m done.

Congratulations to Rodney Ellis, who I believe will do a great job as County Commissioner. We need to talk about doing something about him being the “only Democrat” on that body. The 2018 election will be a key opportunity to change that calculus. I would also like to offer my sincere thanks to current Commissioner Gene Locke, who I believe has done a very good job in his time in office. Under other circumstances I would have supported Commissioner Locke, so I am sorry I was unable to this time. I wish Commissioner Locke all the best as he completes the good work he has started, and in whatever comes next. I would also like to thank Council Member Boykins for his candidacy. He came up short but he brought attention to important issues that deserve it. I wish him all the best on City Council. It was an honor to take part in this process, but in all sincerity I hope I never have that kind of power again. It’t not something I’m comfortable with. I’m glad there are people for whom it is a better fit who can and do take on that challenge with wisdom and humility.

Commissioners Court candidate questionnaire responses

El Franco Lee

Last week, the HCDP sent out a questionnaire to the candidates who had expressed an interest in the nomination for Commissioners Court in Precinct 1. You can see the responses that they got here. Only four candidates submitted answers: Sen. Rodney Ellis, Georgia Provost, Rickey Tezino, and someone named Vernell Jessie, about whom I know nothing. If you’re even a little surprised that Ellis’ answers were longer and more detailed than those of the other three combined, I’m not sure what to tell you.

There were a lot of in-depth questions in this document, and there was only a week or so to submit answers, so it’s not a big surprise that only some candidates did so. Commissioner Locke can reasonably point to his time on the Court and say “you can get your answers from what I’ve done in office”. I suppose CM Boykins could make a similar claim, though Council doesn’t really deal with a number of these issues. DeWayne Lark was the most interesting of the non-officeholding candidates at the May candidate forum, so I would have liked to see what he had to say here. Nat West did not attend that forum, so this may have been his one real chance to be heard by the precinct chairs. That’s the way it goes.

On a tangential note, I received an automated survey call on Monday about the Commissioners nomination process. It sounded like it was going out to Precinct 1 residents, with the intent of informing precinct chairs of the preferences of the voters they will be representing on Saturday, but there was no identifying information on the call, so I have no idea who it was that was collecting this information. Be that as it may, there were three questions in this survey (which now that I think about it didn’t ask about demographic information either). One was whether you considered policy or some other criterion that I’ve since forgotten as more important in selecting a candidate. Needless to say, I chose the “policy” option. Question 2 was about the late Commissioner Lee’s programs for seniors and whether the next Commissioner should continue and build on them. I’ll be honest, I really don’t know much about these programs, as I myself am not (yet) a senior, but I chose Yes anyway. Finally, we were asked which candidate we preferred, with the choices being Provost, Lark, Locke, Ellis, and Boykins. I’ll save my answer for another time, but I guess we can cross Tezino and West off the list of people who might have been paying for the survey.

I then got another automated call last night, from a gentleman who identified himself as “a senior living in Precinct 1”, calling to inform people about the June 25 meeting to select the nominee. He stated incorrectly that “Harris County Democratic Party rules” limited participation in this process to precinct chairs, then said that the way that anyone else could participate was to contact their precinct chair, and he spelled out the URL on harrisdemocrats.com to find one’s chair. (Greg, if this was your idea, you and me are gonna have to have some words.) Anyway, our mystery senior (I forgot his name within minutes of hanging up the phone; I should really try to take notes one of these days) then listed the same five candidates mentioned in Monday’s “poll”. I looked at my caller ID information and the two calls came from different numbers, for all that’s worth, but I’d bet a ten spot they both came from the same source. Did anyone else get one of these calls?

Endorsement watch: Chron for Ellis

I had wondered if the Chron was going to weigh in on any of the candidate-selection processes that will be going on over the next two weeks. I even sent an email to a couple of their editorial board members on Saturday morning to ask about it. Turns out, I needn’t have wondered, they were on it.

Sen. Rodney Ellis

Sen. Rodney Ellis

It looks like Election Night will be over before it began, if you can even call it an election. State Sen. Rodney Ellis is already claiming victory in the bizarre June 25 contest to replace the late Precinct 1 County Commissioner El Franco Lee on the November ballot.

Lee died earlier this year with his name as the only choice in the March 25 primary and no opponent in the general election. The byzantine dictates of election law and political party structure mean that a smattering of 125 otherwise inconsequential precinct chairs get to pick his successor for this powerful position.

The United States has never been a direct democracy, but this entire process is about as far as a political system can get from representative government without leaving the realm of a republic altogether. After a primary season that left plenty of voters jaded across the political spectrum, Democrats need to take a hard look at this replacement process.

With only 65 votes, Ellis can claim an unopposed path to a seat on Harris County Commissioners Court, where he’ll represent 1.2 million people across a heavily gerrymandered and largely urban district that includes the heavily African-American Third and Fifth wards, in addition to southern parts of the county. In that seat, he’ll control a $200 million budget and receive a base annual salary of nearly $170,000. Important issues like flooding, toll roads and the criminal justice system are controlled by that five-member court.

[…]

Some candidates told us that they had to file open records requests to learn the names of the precinct chairs. Others said they still weren’t sure whether the eventual vote on June 25 would be a secret ballot or not. And Provost told the editorial board that she thought the party was working to push the whole thing in Ellis’ direction.

While the bulk of local Democrats don’t get to vote, they should at least consider themselves lucky that the chairs are apparently going with a well-qualified candidate. The only other challenger who comes close is Locke, a former Houston city attorney who was appointed to the position by County Judge Ed Emmett. Locke has worked as an attorney for the county and already has a deep knowledge of how county government functions and all the personalities at play. However, this insider perspective means that he’d be unlikely to shake up the status quo of the board’s under-the-radar activities. For example, when he met with the Chronicle editorial board, Locke rejected claims that responsibility for recent flooding rests with the Harris County Flood Control District. Does this show that Locke is too close to county government to see the big picture?

Let’s deal with that penultimate paragraph first. Precinct chairs are actual elected officials, so their names are a matter of public record. Go to the Secretary of State website – you can find that link right here on the HCDP page entitled “Precinct Chairs and Senate District Leadership” – and you can get a list of every precinct chair for both parties in the entire state. That wasn’t so difficult, was it? If you want contact information for precinct chairs, I’m sure a simple call or email to the HCDP will do. I’ve been a chair for eight years, and I’ve received plenty of email and snail mail from candidates during that time seeking the support and endorsement of my colleagues and myself. On the matter of how the June 25 ballot will be conducted, Gerry Birnberg has stated publicly at two different events – the spring CEC meeting and the May 25 candidate forum – that Texas Democratic Party rules expressly forbid secret ballots for this sort of thing. I don’t expect the Chron editorial board to know these things offhand – though honestly, how hard is it to go to harrisdemocrats.com and poke around a bit; it took me like 10 seconds to find what I was looking for – but anyone seeking this post really ought to be capable of reading the TDP rulebook or contacting their friendly neighborhood SDEC rep for clarification. I wish the Chron had identified the people who had made these claims, because to me it’s evidence that they are either too misinformed or dishonest to merit consideration.

Finally, in regard to Georgia Provost’s complaint, clearly this is the year of candidates claiming that The System is rigged against them. Let me state for the record that no one from the HCDP has contacted me about this race in any fashion except to announce public events like the candidate forum and the upcoming precinct convention. I suspect her beef is based on the forum and the convention being held at the CWA hall, with the CWA being supporters of Ellis. All I can say is that every official Democratic Party event I’ve ever been to has been held in one of three places – the old jury assembly room downtown, the IBEW hall next door to HCDP headquarters, and the CWA hall. How this is supposed to affect the outcome in any way is a mystery to me.

Now for the Chron’s grievances about the process. As one of those 125 otherwise inconsequential precinct chairs, believe me when I say I’d rather not have this power. I can’t wait for it to be over, and if you’ll allow me a bit of personal bitching, I’d much rather spend this Saturday morning driving up to Camp Allen to pick up my kids than spend it at the CWA hall engaging in what is likely to be an un-fun process. That’s life in the big city, and I doubt anyone cares. If you don’t like the process that we have, I encourage you to express that opinion to your legislators, since it’s state law that compels us to take this path. I’d advise you to suggest a replacement process if you do – the Chron did not offer any alternatives – and to bear in mind that this is a really unusual set of circumstances at play. Remember that a slightly larger group of precinct chairs will be selecting two judicial nominees next week, and nobody is having any agida about that. The difference is that those positions have less power than County Commissioner, and those candidates will face general election opponents in races that are seen as tossups. It’s the combination of the position’s power and the lack of a general election opponent that makes this one stand out.

I get the concern with that, I really do. But if you want to argue for a special election as an alternate process, bear in mind that this is to select a party nominee, not a general election winner. Any such election would need to be limited to the people who participated in the most recent primary election, since those are the people who would have made the choice if El Franco Lee had timed his death more propitiously. Had he died before December 15, someone else could have filed to be on the March ballot. Any special election process – including a runoff – would need to take place between March and August, to ensure that the replacement nominee would be on the ballot in time for the early September deadline for printing overseas ballots. That would be going on at the same time as other primary runoffs and the May general election, which I guarantee would lead to complaints of “election fatigue”. Finally, remember that if Lee had waited till after Labor Day to die, he’d have been on the November ballot, and after his term expired next January 1, Ed Emmett would have picked his replacement for the ensuing two years, after which whoever he named would get to be on the 2018 primary ballot as the incumbent. That is of course the Jack Cagle story, with Jerry Eversole resigning instead of dying, and I don’t recall there being this much fuss about it. If you don’t like the idea of 125 (duly elected) precinct chairs picking the next County Commissioner, how much would you like one County Judge, from the opposing party, doing it instead? It could have been worse, is what I’m saying.

What do you want in the next Precinct 1 County Commissioner?

Here’s one way to figure it out if you’re not sure.

El Franco Lee

Harris County Democrats have sent a questionnaire to Precinct 1 commissioners candidates, setting up one of the few instances in an unusual race where the public can compare candidates’ political and policy stances.

The questionnaire covers topics including how candidates propose to prioritize funds inside versus outside city limits, how candidates will continue longtime commissioner El Franco Lee’s senior programs, and the burdened county criminal justice system.

The party is seeking answers to the questionnaire by June 16.

[…]

The task of picking a commissioner who will represent 1.2 million people – more than the populations of nine states – and control a $200 million budget falls to a group of 125 Democratic precinct chairs.

Which as you well know happens on June 25. I’m sure our letter carrier will appreciate the lighter load she will get to carry once this race is over and the avalanche of mail I’ve been getting ceases. The questionnaire is embedded in the story – these are fairly involved questions, so I hope the candidates got them before Monday, because it will take some time to write thorough answers – and I will be eager to see the responses. I’ve said what my preferences are, but these questions go into quite a bit more depth. I’ll have a report on the answers once they are posted.

The Commissioners Court candidates forum

El Franco Lee

On Sunday, I attended the candidate forum held by the HCDP for the people who are interested in being named to replace the late El Franco Lee on the ballot this November. The Chron has a report on it here, but I’m just going to give you my impressions of the event and the candidates.

The event started with an introduction by HCDP Chair Lane Lewis, who gave a long and obviously written by a lawyer explanation that just because someone was participating in this event does not mean that person has declared himself a candidate for the office. In fact, one doesn’t ever have to declare oneself a candidate for this office, but instead can graciously accept the spot on the ballot if the precinct chairs in their wisdom call upon one to take it. I’ll give you three guesses which candidate present for this event this was aimed at.

There were six candidates in attendance for what was to be a fairly standard candidate forum, in which a moderator (KPRC’s Khambrel Marshall) would ask questions (some prepared beforehand, some solicited from the audience) that participants would answer. Each candidate got to make a two-minute intro speech, and the questions would be assigned to two candidates each, though some of them were answered by all. Marshall picked the candidates and the order in which they responded. Overall, it went pretty well, and I’ll get to the candidates and my view of them in a minute, but first I want to share the two most important things I learned from this event.

First and foremost, if on the initial round of voting at the Precinct Executive Committee meeting on June 25 at which the nominee is picked no candidate receives a majority of the precinct chairs in attendance, then the top two will go to a runoff, to be conducted immediately following that vote. There had been a lot of confusion on that point – several people at the event asked me this specific question, which was finally answered by Gerry Birnberg after the debate part was over. He also emphasized that as per Robert’s Rules of Order, only the relevant precinct chairs in attendance at the event could vote. No proxies or phone-ins would be allowed. To say the least, that puts a lot of emphasis on the most concentrated get-out-the-vote effort you’ll ever see.

The other item had to do with the selection of candidates for the 507th Family Court and Harris County Criminal Court At Law #16, for which I’ll write a separate post. I had originally been under the impression that we would take care of all of this business on the same day, June 25. That is not the case. As Lane Lewis told me, we need to keep those things separate to ensure that only chairs in Precinct 1 are involved in the selection of the Commissioners Court nominee. The judicial nominees will be chosen five days later, at the next County Executive Committee meeting on Thursday night, June 30.

As for the candidates at this forum for this race:

Ricky Tezino: I have no idea what he was doing here.

Georgia Provost: She got a lot of audience response from making numerous provocative, mostly anti-establishment statements. That’s an interesting strategy to pursue in an election that will be decided entirely by precinct chairs, but she did have some support in the crowd. She and the other two candidates who are not current officeholders pitched themselves as scrappy outsiders not beholden to anyone who would come in and shake things up. There’s a place for that kind of candidate – City Council, for which Provost has made two recent campaigns, is one example – but I for one am not sure that’s a good idea for the lone Democrat on Harris County Commissioners Court. YMMV and all that.

DeWayne Lark: Of the three “outsider” candidates, he made the best impression on me. At one point during the forum, there was a somewhat bizarre question about the need for a public defender’s office in Harris County. Georgia Provost, answering first, gave a rambling response in which it was not at all clear she understood that there was a PD’s office already and that it had been in operation for several years. Lark followed that with an unequivocal statement that we already have such an office, and the main issue with it is that judges in Harris County are not required to use it instead of the old system of assigning an attorney themselves. Lark was in general fairly well informed, he gave concise answers, and he offered the best slogan of the evening, “Come out of the dark and vote for Lark”.

Dwight Boykins: He was at his best when he was talking about the things he has done on Council and how he would implement them as a County Commissioner. He spent a lot of time talking up his second chance job programs in particular. He also had two bad moments that stuck out. Late in the forum, there was an audience-submitted question regarding HERO. Ellis gave a short answer stating his firm support for HERO. Locke also strongly supported HERO, but criticized the way the campaign in support of it was handled. Lark said something about opposing discrimination but having issues with the wording of the ordinance, which was not a good answer but at least was short. Boykins’ response began with his intent to work with Mayor Parker to pass a non-discrimination ordinance, until he started getting calls from constituents who didn’t like it, so he had to vote against it. The whole thing was a mess. Later, he walked right into the biggest haymaker of the evening, in response to a question about why were the candidates Democrats. Ellis was first, and he gave a rousing, red meat answer that got a big cheer from the crowd. Boykins followed, and after beginning by saying he was born a Democrat, he took a shot at Ellis for having previously referred to him as a Republican. Ellis responded to that by saying well, what do you call someone who votes in a Republican primary? (The crowd responded as you might expect to that.) Boykins tried to salvage things by saying he voted for Kay Bailey Hutchison over Rick Perry, and the Democrats didn’t have a candidate. The crowd didn’t appear to catch that he had just publicly overlooked Bill White in 2010, but everyone I talked to about it afterwards noticed. It was not Boykins’ finest moment.

Gene Locke and Rodney Ellis: I’m putting these two together because they both had the most visible presence at the event. They had display tables in the lobby, they brought a bunch of supporters wearing their campaign T-shirts, and more importantly, they both made it through without saying or doing anything that would make a supporter change his or her mind about them. They emphasized their experience and credentials, with Ellis making a spirited defense of his 30+ years in public office, and they both brought their A games rhetorically. The Chron story said that Locke’s discussion of his plan to help fix the streets in front of Reliant Stadium for the Super Bowl was contentious, but I have to confess I missed any negative response to it from the crowd. The bottom line is that if you came in thinking these two were the frontrunners, I saw nothing in the event to change that perception.

Overview of the Commissioners Court Precinct 1 “race”

I put “race” in quotes because it’s not like any other race you’v ever seen.

El Franco Lee

The campaign for the next Harris County Precinct 1 commissioner appears in many ways like any other: candidates are raising money, seeking endorsements and sending out targeted mailers touting their credentials.

But this is not a typical election, and voters won’t be heading to the ballot box. Instead, the task of picking a commissioner who will represent 1.2 million people – more than the populations of nine states – and control a $200 million budget falls to a group of 125 Democratic precinct chairs.

That’s because longtime Commissioner El Franco Lee’s name remained on the March 1 primary ballot after his death in early January, leaving the precinct chairs to select the party’s new nominee, who will be unopposed in November.

The unusual nature of the nominating process means the campaign is less democratic than most local elections and far more intimate – built around in-depth policy conversations and targeted wooing of party insiders.

Example: The presumed frontrunners, Rodney Ellis and Gene Locke, both sent flowers to female precinct chairs for Mother’s Day.

[…]

City Councilman Dwight Boykins has not formally announced his candidacy, citing concern that he could forfeit his municipal office by doing so. But he has been actively campaigning for the job.

Because voters last November extended the terms of Houston elected officials to four years, from two, those who become a candidate for another office now are subject to the so-called “resign-to-run” provision of the Texas Constitution, which applies to municipal officeholders with terms longer than two years. Though a Texas attorney general opinion issued in 2000 states that running for the nomination of a political party’s executive committee does not prompt an automatic resignation, the courts have yet to formally resolve the issue.

“My best bet is that the courts would rule that (then-Attorney General John) Cornyn is correct and you don’t trigger resign-to-run by seeking the nomination of the executive committee,” former Harris County Democratic Party Chair Gerry Birnberg said. However, he added, “Until the courts decide the issue, there is no way to say for sure, definitively, that Attorney General Cornyn was correct.”

So Boykins and other interested council members – Jerry Davis and Larry Green – have approached the campaign gingerly.

“I can neither admit or deny my interest in the seat because of the way the current law is drafted,” Green said recently. “However, I can say I have been approached by several precinct judges and other community members requesting that I do move forward in trying to run for the seat.”

It’s a good overview of the process, so give it a read and familiarize yourself. I spoke to Chron reporter Rebecca Elliott on Thursday, but much like Kevin Costner in The Big Chill, my role was left on the cutting room floor. One point I want to address in this story, which is as much about the great power that’s been bestowed on some 125 precinct chairs as anything, is the question of how this process could have been done differently. One precinct chair called for a special election instead of the current process. That has some intuitive appeal, but remember, we’re not actually picking a County Commissioner. We’re picking a Democratic nominee for County Commissioner. There’s no provision in the law for a special party primary election, and I’m not sure how you could conduct one in a way that mimicked an actual primary election. Those are technically open elections, but everyone who participates has to choose which primary they want to vote in. How do you ensure conditions like that in a special election environment? Remember also, we precinct chairs – not just the 125 or so of us in Precinct 1, but the 500 or so of us in all of Harris County – are also selecting nominees for two judicial races. There’s basically no concern about us doing that, in part for the obvious reason that those offices have far less power, but also because those nominees will have contested races against Republicans in November, and unlike the Commissioners Court race there’s no guarantee they’ll win. The concern about the un-democratic nature of this process is, in my opinion, entirely about the nature of the office of Commissioners Court, which has vast power and not a whole lot of electoral accountability under normal circumstances. It’s about the office, not the process. Fixing the process in some way, if there is a way, can’t address that.

I should also point out that as weird as this process is, it could be worse. For one, if the late Commissioner Lee had died next January after being elected and sworn in, instead of this January after the filing deadline had passed, then Judge Ed Emmett would have been able to not only pick a replacement as he did to fill out the last year of Lee’s term, but that replacement would have been able to file for election himself in 2018, and would almost certainly have cruised to an easy win. This is what happened with Jerry Eversole (who resigned after the 2010 election) and now-Commissioner Jack Cagle. At least here, it’s Democrats who are picking the replacement. Yes, we’d have gotten a shot at that person in the next primary, but that could mean nearly two years of a Commissioner in the most Democratic precinct in the county being chosen by a Republican County Judge, and an awful lot can happen in two years. We got lucky here, in that Judge Emmett is an honorable man, and his choice for this year of Commissioner Locke was a good one. But there was and would have been nothing to stop a less honorable Judge from picking whatever hack or crony he wanted to. It could have been worse, that’s all I’m saying.

One more thing:

If Ellis earns the Democratic Party’s nod for commissioner, the party would need to convene another executive committee meeting to find a replacement for him on the ballot for state senator – and quickly, as all nominations must be completed by late August.

The angling has already begun.

“Of course anybody in the (Texas) House – or any other position for that matter – is going to look at that position as something to move to, and so I fall in that category of looking at it as a possibility,” said state Rep. Garnet Coleman, one of several politicians who have already expressed interest in Ellis’s seat. “These seats don’t change hands very often, and more than likely, whomever is selected to be the nominee for the Democratic Party, they’re going to be there for a long time.”

Naming Sen. Ellis to fill the nomination ensures at least one more round of this selection process, with the precinct chairs in SD13 moving onto the hot spot. (That does not include me, as I am in SD15.) And if the precinct chairs of SD13 select a State Rep to fill the slot left vacant by Ellis – at the very least, Reps. Coleman, Thompson, and Miles are waiting in the wings – then we get to do this a third time. There is an argument to be made that selecting Commissioner Locke to run for the seat in November puts an end to that process. Whether one considers that a pro or a con is a matter of personal preference.

Precinct 1 Commissioners Court race update

HarrisCounty

Three items of interest:

1. There will be a public forum on Sunday, May 22, from 3 to 5 PM at CWA Local 6222- 1730 Jefferson St, Houston, TX 77002, to meet the people who have expressed interest in being named to fill the ballot in place of the late El Franco Lee. The four that have shared their interest with the HCDP so far are Sen. Rodney Ellis, interim Commissioner Gene Locke, Nathaniel West, Sr., and Georgia Provost. Everybody knows that CM Dwight Boykins is also interested in this nomination, but thanks to state law and the city’s new four-year terms for Council members, he can’t say that out loud just yet without (maybe) having to resign his seat. Nobody knows for sure if state law applies to this situation, as this election is unlike all others, but he understandably doesn’t want to take an unnecessary risk. That said, I am sure that CM Boykins will be in attendance next Sunday.

2. Another name I can add to this list is the Rev. DeWayne Lark, who is having a meet-and-greet this Sunday with (I presume) precinct chairs. I’m not able to attend, so that’s all the information I have at this time.

3. On Monday, I received in the mail a photocopy of a Chronicle story from April about Sen. Ellis and his bond work, which I blogged about here. Just a photocopy of the print story, no writing on the single piece of paper and no return address on the envelope. An attack mailer, clearly, one that does not meet legal requirements. This has got to be the cheapest election ever for sending attack mail, I figure. The entire voting universe is 130 or so people, and you know exactly who they are. It’s probably not the only piece of mail I’ll get between now and June 25.

RIP, Carl Whitmarsh

This was certainly a shock.

Carl Whitmarsh

Carl Whitmarsh used to joke that when he died, there would be as many people ready to dance on his grave as to cry over his death. A towering figure in Harris County Democratic politics, Whitmarsh rarely held his punches against those he disagreed with, but was a loyal friend and supporter of those on his side.

Whitmarsh died over the weekend at 64. The cause was not immediately clear, but he had been in ill health for years. The Harris County Democratic Party announced Whitmarsh’s death in an email to members Sunday evening.

“He was a somewhat cantankerous and often polarizing figure, but his primary role was in keeping everybody honest,” said Lane Lewis, a close friend of Whitmarsh’s and chairman of the Harris County Democratic Party. “I suspect there are people sharpening their knives as we speak without him keeping them in check.”

Whitmarsh served as executive director of the county Democratic party; as an aide to Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, the vice presidential pick on Michael Dukakis’ 1988 ticket; and most recently, as president of the Oak Forest Area Democrats, a group active in northwest Houston. Throughout his decades behind the scenes in politics, he helped hundreds of candidates get elected, said State Sen. John Whitmire, a close friend.

[…]

“Carl Whitmarsh was a dear friend,” Mayor Sylvester Turner said in a statement. “There was no greater supporter than Carl. And no greater defender of the little person, those who were discriminated against and those who had nothing but their dignity. Carl was a mighty force of nature when he went after those he believed were hurting others or just plain wrong-headed about issues. But when he was your friend, Carl would go to the ends of the earth to help you.”

If you were at all involved in Democratic politics around here, you knew Carl. And if you knew Carl, you were undoubtedly stunned by the news of his death, announced via email from the HCDP on Sunday afternoon. Carl was as busy and active as he had ever been in these past weeks, so the odds are you saw him or spoke to him recently. He was doing what he always did, what he loved to do, which was supporting good Democrats and exhorting us all to get involved. If you could ask him right now, I’m sure he’d say is that his one regret is not being able to cast a vote for President Hillary Clinton. Carl was a force of nature, a stubborn old cuss, a hell-raiser to the bone, and a strong and loyal friend. Like so many others, I can’t quite believe there will be no more emails or phone calls or Facebook posts from him. You will be missed, Carl. Rest in peace, my friend.

Once again with what we want from the next County Commissioner

Campos:

El Franco Lee

The Chron has a story today on County Commissioner Gene Locke changing his mind and now wanting to become the Dem nominee for Commissioner. It looks like a race between Gene and State Sen. Rodney Ellis. The Chron mentions a few others that may be interested though.

Here is from the story today that Commentary finds interesting:

Lane Lewis, Democratic Party county chair, said he does not know which candidate the roughly 150 precinct chairs lean toward. So far, he said, the chairs have expressed concern about two main issues when considering contenders: whether the nominee will invest more within Houston city limits, since city residents also pay county taxes, and whether the nominee will play a more active role in Democratic Party politics.

Get it in writing folks or at least on YouTube. Make the county commissioner candidates say that they will start spending more of our tax dollars on projects within the H-Town City limits. How much? How about proportionately?

On the second point, we all know that county commissioners can raise a ton of campaign funds. Get them to say that in general election years, they will spend ten percent of what they have in their campaign bank account on Dem GOTV efforts in Harris County or at least within their precinct. If they have a million in the bank, then they commit to spend $100,000. No more of this piling up funds in their campaign bank account and hoarding it while the Dem Party continues to hold bake sales.

Make them take the pledge, please. Don’t let this opportunity slip through your fingers.

I’ve already stated my agreement with the second item, though I didn’t specify a number, as well as some other things I’m looking for. I’m happy to include point 1 on my list. The story notes that there will be a forum in May, so perhaps we can get some answers to these and other questions. Clearly, I need to add some candidate interviews to my to-do list. What questions should we add to what we’ve already got?

By the way, as noted by Mainstream in this comment to Tuesday’s post, you can add County Criminal Court at Law #16 to the list of nominations we have to fill. I have no intel on that one at this time, but I’m sure I’ll hear some names sooner or later.

Chron story on Locke running for Commissioner

It’s officially official now.

Gene Locke

Gene Locke

Harris County Precinct 1 Commissioner Gene Locke, appointed to fill the unexpired term following the sudden death of longtime Commissioner El Franco Lee last month, said Tuesday he may seek the nomination for the powerful local office in the November election.

Locke said he has not made a final decision, but his statement signals a shift for the former city attorney, who previously said he intended to return to his job as a lawyer and spend time with his family after the end of the current term in December.

It also would conflict with County Judge Ed Emmett’s previously stated desire to appoint a caretaker commissioner who would not seek the job beyond Dec. 31

“It’s the number of people who I respect that are asking me to consider it,” Locke said Tuesday.

He declined to name those asking him to run and said he needs to talk to his family about it. He did not give a timetable for when he would make a decision.

[…]

After Lee’s death on Jan. 3, several people announced interest in the office, including Houston Councilmen Jerry Davis, Dwight Boykins and Larry Green. State Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, said last month that he intends to run, sacrificing 25 years of legislative seniority.

“I have a lot of respect for Gene Locke and appreciate anyone who wants to serve the public,” Ellis said in a statement Tuesday.

Davis said the possibility of Locke seeking the nomination would not change anything for him.

“Right now, it’s just the opportunity to talk to different people and see what they want in the county commissioner,” he said.

Harris County Democratic Party Chairman Lane Lewis said Locke had not told him if he was interested in the nomination.

You heard it here first. I mean, look, there are 130 or so precinct chairs who will make this decision. Locke’s task, or any other challenger’s task, is to convince enough of them to make him their first or second choice. I don’t know how that’s going to go, but it will be a campaign and an election like nothing else we’ve seen anytime soon.

Gene Locke is reportedly seeking the Commissioners Court nomination

Please see update at the end of this post. There is new information at the bottom.

Remember this?

Gene Locke

Gene Locke

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett on Friday named Gene Locke, a former city attorney and mayoral candidate, to complete El Franco Lee’s term on Commissioners Court.

Locke, 68, a senior partner at the Andrews Kurth law firm, served as city attorney under the late Mayor Bob Lanier in the 1990s and ran for mayor in 2009, losing in a runoff to Annise Parker.

“I plan to be a hands-on, on the ground, let’s get with the program commissioner, which means that I will follow in El Franco’s footsteps,” Locke said.

He added: “This precinct belongs to El Franco Lee, and anything that I do over the next several months is dedicated to him.”

Asked if he intended to run for the post in November, Locke said, “My intention is to go back to the practice of law and enjoy my family.”

As Carl Whitmarsh first noted on Friday, and others confirmed to me at the Saturday HCDP County Executive Committee meeting, Locke is now seeking to be named as El Franco Lee’s replacement on the ballot in December, thus allowing him to run for a full four-year term. I don’t know what may have changed his thinking – the obvious answer is that being County Commissioner is an amazingly sweet gig, and who wouldn’t want to keep doing it? – but something did. One of the tidbits I learned at that CEC meeting on Saturday is that there are about 130 Democratic precinct chairs in Commissioners Precinct 1, so that’s the target electorate he needs to work to get that job. Getting a headline about using county resources to help fix some city streets (*) is a nice thing that would no doubt help with March and November voters, but the pool to fish in is quite a bit smaller than that. We’ll see how he approaches it.

Meanwhile, Rodney Ellis and Dwight Boykins, who were both at that CEC meeting, remain the most visible-to-me contestants for that job. According to the discussion thread on Whitmarsh’s Facebook post, former City Council candidate Georgia Provost, and SD13 committee chair Nat West are also throwing their hats in the ring. Another thing I learned at the CEC meeting is that in order to be considered for the replacement nomination, one of those 130 or so precinct chairs needs to make a motion to nominate you. So we won’t really know who is and isn’t in play until June 25, the day the Precinct Executive Committee meets. Stay tuned.

(*) – Am I the only one who thinks it’s weird that a story about Commissioner whose precinct is almost entirely within the city of Houston proposing to use some of his infrastructure funds on city streets (among other things) is newsworthy? What else do these funds get spent on if city streets aren’t normally included? It’s all still Harris County, isn’t it?

UPDATE: Commissioner Locke called me to say that while he has been asked to consider seeking the nomination, he has not made any decisions. He is considering it, and he said that being Commissioner offers him a platform on which he can do a lot of good, but he also reiterated what he said in that earlier story about having grandchildren he loves spending time with. The bottom line is that he said he has not made any decisions about seeking the nomination.

Selecting a successor for El Franco Lee: Process and questions

From the inbox, sent by Carroll Robinson.

El Franco Lee

The Issue

During the past few days, there has been a great deal of speculation about the legal process for selecting someone to replace the late Commissioner El Franco Lee on the November 2016 General Election ballot. (Texas Election Code, Subchapter C. Sections 172.057, 172.058 and 172.054 (1).)

The Primary Ballot – No Options

Under the state election code, Commissioner Lee’s name cannot be removed from the March Democratic Party Primary Election ballot, and the deadline for extending the filing deadline to allow other people to add their name to the primary ballot has passed. (Texas Election Code, Subchapter C, Section 172.058(b) and Subchapter B, Sections 145.035 and 145.036.)

General Election Ballot

Under the Texas Election Code, once the March Primary Election and Run-Off has concluded, the Democratic Precinct Judges in Commissioners Court Precinct 1 will meet to select a replacement candidate to appear on the November ballot for a full four-year term.

Under the law, there is no option of a Special Election for selecting a replacement candidate for the November General Election ballot.

Sitting Elected Officials

Under the law, a person’s name cannot appear on the ballot for two positions.  This means that currently elected officials up for re-election this year cannot be listed on the ballot for both Commissioner and re-election to their current office.

If A State Legislator Is Selected As The Replacement

In the event a state legislator is selected as the ballot replacement for the Precinct 1 position, his/her legislative office position on the November ballot would become available. To fill that position, a separate appointment process would occur, with the precinct judges of that specific jurisdiction selecting a replacement in the event no other candidate is on the primary ballot for that position. There is some confusion over the eligibility of current officeholders whose existing term would overlap in part or totally. Specifically, the eligibility of a municipal elected official to be appointed to a state legislative position.  Under current law, any potential replacement would have to resign from office prior to selection to be considered because of the State holdover provision based on an existing Texas Supreme Court decision to possibly be eligible to succeed the legislator. (Wentworth v. Meyer, 839 S.W. 2nd 766 (Tex. 1992) and Texas Attorney General Letter Opinion No. 95-069 (November 7, 1995).)

The Court’s decision raises a number of questions and does not give full clarity on a state constitutional provision that had historically prohibited sitting elected officials from being elected to the legislature if their term of office would overlap with the term of office of the legislative seat they were planning to seek.  (Texas Attorney General Letter Opinion No.95-069 (November 7, 1995).)

Questions Still To Be Answered
We are still researching answers to the following questions.

  • How will the meeting of the Precinct Judges to select the replacement be conducted?
  • Who will Chair the meeting and how will the Chair be selected?
  • What will be the process for individuals to be considered to be the replacement?
  • Can the Precinct Judges retain counsel to advise them on the questions involved in selecting the replacement?

 
Summary

1. Commissioner Lee’s name will be the only one on the Democratic Party Primary Ballot.

2. In June, the Democratic Party Precinct Judges, residing in Commissioner Precinct 1, elected in the March primary, will select a replacement candidate to appear on the November General Election ballot. The replacement candidate cannot be selected by Special Election.

We’ve covered some of this before, but it’s nice to have it in a concise summary like this. I would add the question of which precinct judges get to select a replacement if we wind up naming a sitting legislator to be the November nominee. My guess is that it would be simply the precinct judges from that legislative district, but it would be nice for that to be clarified. Note as well that there could be a third step involved if the legislator in question is 1) a Senator or Congressperson, and 2) the nominee chosen for that office is also a legislator, presumably a State Rep. I don’t want to go too far down the rabbit hole here, so let’s just say that this could get involved, and could wind up being a long meeting.

If the new nominee is someone who currently holds office but is not on the ballot this November – a Houston City Council member or HISD/HCC Trustee, for instance – that person would clearly have to resign once sworn in as Commissioner, but not necessarily before then, unless they held an office that required them to resign to run for something else. I would prefer such a person to resign anyway, as there would be enough time for a special election, to be held in November along with everything else, to fill that person’s unexpired term. Which leads to another question I can’t answer: How many full terms in office would a Council member who won a November 2016 special election get to serve? Under the old system, they’d still get three full two-year terms, as folks like Ed Gonzalez and Melissa Noriega did; Dave Martin will get the full two-year term he won in 2013 plus the two four-year terms (if he runs and wins again in 2019) that others elected in 2013 can get. My guess is such a person could run twice more, in 2019 and 2023, giving them up to 11 years in total. Maybe we ought to have the City Attorney standing by, just in case.

Anyway. This is the process, and these are the questions that occur to me. I’m sure there will be more. I plan to lay out my criteria for what I am looking for in a new Commissioner in a separate post, as this one is long enough. What questions do you have about the process that I haven’t addressed here?

Filing deadline highlights

I’m taking a look at interesting bits from the state and Harris County Democratic Party filings. You can see the latter here; there isn’t a page dedicated to this on the TDP webpage (why?) but via this press release we find the SOS candidate filing report, which once filtered for Dem only gives us what we want, albeit in a not-so-pretty package. We soldier on nonetheless. Here are the things that caught my eye.

Federal

– In addition to the three candidates with whom you may be familiar, your choices for President in Texas include Calvis L. Hawes, Keith Judd, Roque “Rocky” De La Fuente, Star Locke, and Willie L. Wilson. Hawes, Judd, and Locke are themselves from Texas.

– Democratic candidates filed for 30 of the 36 Congressional seats, the exceptions being 8, 11, 13, 19, 32, and 36. Of those, only 32 could be considered on the horizon of competitive, so no great loss. Incumbent Democrats facing primary challengers are Beto O’Rourke (CD16), Henry Cuellar (CD28), Eddie Berniece Johnson (CD30), and of course Gene Green (CD29), who like Johnson has two opponents, both named Garcia (Adrian and Dominique). There are seven candidates for the open CD15. Former Rep. Pete Gallego, trying to take back CD23, has a primary opponent to overcome first. Frequent candidate A.R. Hassan is one of two hopefuls for CD22. And hey, remember Ray Madrigal, the guy who ran against Wendy Davis in the gubernatorial primary in 2014? He’s a candidate for CD27, along with two other folks.

Statewide

– Your candidates for Railroad Commissioner are former State Rep. Lon Burnam, 2014 Senate candidate Grady Yarbrough, and Cody Garrett.

– All of the statewide judicial offices have candidates: Mike Westergren, Dori Contreras Garza, and Savannah Robinson, for places 3, 5, and 9 on the Supreme Court; incumbent Judge Larry Meyers (remember he switched parties last year), Betsy Johnson, and Robert Burns, for places 2, 5, and 6 on the Court of Criminal Appeals. I think you have to go back to 2002 to find the last time we had all such slots filled.

SBOE

– I guess first-term SBOE member Martha Dominguez decided not to run for re-election, because she didn’t file for it. Dominguez was more than a little flaky about running after her surprise win in the 2012 primary (why she was in the primary if she was reluctant to run for November remains a mystery), so no great loss here. Three candidates – Georgia Perez, Joe Fierro, Jr., and Lynn Oliver – are on the ballot to replace her.

– Two familiar names are back, Rebecca Bell-Metereau in SBOE5, and Judy Jennings in SBOE10. Both good candidates (you can search my archives for the interviews I did with them in 2010 if you are so inclined), with perhaps better chances of winning this time.

– There are three candidates for SBOE6 in Harris County – Jasmine Jenkins, Dakota Carter, and Michael Jordan. I know nothing about any of them at this time.

District appeals courts

– We seem to have these covered for Harris and the other counties in our two appellate districts:

Chief Justice, 1st Court of Appeals – Jim Peacock.
Justice, 1st Court of Appeals District, Place 4 – Barbara Gardner.
Justice, 14th Court of Appeals District, Place 2 – Candance White and Jim Sharp. Yes, that Jim Sharp.
Justice, 14th Court of Appeals District, Place 9 – Peter M. Kelly.

That appears to be a full slate, unless there are any unexpired terms I’m not aware of. DA candidate Morris Overstreet ran for Chief Justice of the 1st Court in 2010. Peter Kelly is a neighbor of mine, so that’s cool.

– There’s a contested primary for Justice, 13th Court of Appeals District, Place 3, in South Texas, which had been held by 2008 Supreme Court candidate Linda Yanez; she lost it in a heartbreaker in the 2010 debacle. One of the candidates is Leticia Hinojosa, whom those with long memories may remember as Rep. Lloyd Doggett’s primary opponent for the re-redistricted CD25 in 2004. Everything old is new again.

State Senate

– You know about the TMF-Menendez rematch in SD26. Another “rematch” is in SD19, where Sen. Carlos Uresti faces Helen Madla, widow of former Sen. Frank Madla, whom Uresti ousted in 2006. Let me just say that as much as I love the city of San Antonio, I’m glad I’m not living there this primary season.

– Sen. Eddie Lucio also has a primary opponent, O. Rodriguez Haro III.

– Virginia “Jennie Lou” Leeder is running for SD24, the seat vacated by Troy Fraser. She won’t win, but at least someone is running. No one filed for the other open Senate seat, Kevin Eltife’s SD01.

State House

– By my rough count, Dems fielded candidates in 90 of the 150 State House districts, which I believe means they are challenging 38 Republican incumbents. Offhand I don’t know how that compares to other years. Some districts where I would have liked to have seen a challenger include 17, 32, 45, 132, and 138. Easier said than done, I know. The Dallas County Democratic Party put out a release touting the fact that all of their districts have a Dem running in them. Good on them for that.

– Incumbents with primary challengers, according to the SOS: Toni Rose (HD110), Ina Minjarez (HD124; she won a special election late in the session, so no shock here), Alma Allen (HD131), Gene Wu (HD137), Ron Reynolds (HD27; he has three opponents), Sergio Munoz (HD36), and Mary Gonzalez (HD75; she is facing former Rep. Chente Quintanilla). According to the HCDP page, you can add Jessica Farrar (HD148) and Hubert Vo (HD149) to that list, with both of their opponents being hot messes. Farrar faces Dave Wilson – yes, that Dave Wilson – while Vo draws minor Mayoral candidate Demetria Smith. Pass the Advil.

– Open seat report: Three candidates in HD116 (vacated by TMF in his Senate quest), two in HD118 (Joe Farias; son Gabe won the special election to fill out his term), six in HD120 (Ruth Jones McClendon), three in HD139 (Sylvester Turner), seven in HD49 (Elliott Naishtat), and two in HD77 (Marissa Marquez).

– Other contested races: HD117 (Philip Cortez tries to win back the seat he won in 2012 and lost in 2014; he faces San Carlos Antonio), and HD144 (Mary Ann Perez tries to do the same but first faces Cody Ray Wheeler and Bernie Aldape). Also of note, Lloyd Criss (father of former Judge and 2014 candidate Susan Criss) tries his luck in HD23, which he once represented some years back.

Harris County

– There are twelve contested judicial races. These are mostly for Republican-held benches, but incumbent Elaine Palmer drew two challengers. Guess I better start sending out those judicial Q&As.

– Those 12 judicial races are for district and county courts. There are also four contested JP races. Incumbent Richard Vara (Precinct 6, Place 1) has an opponent, and incumbent Hillary Green (Precinct 7, Place 1; she is the estranged wife of outgoing Controller Ronald Green) has seven (!) opponents, including 2012 HCDP Chair candidate and 2013 Mayoral candidate Keryl Douglas.

– There are 26 people running for 8 Constable positions. Incumbents Alan Rosen (Precinct 1) has two opponents; Chris Diaz (Precinct 2) has three; Henry Martinez (Precinct 6) has four; and May Walker (Precinct 7) has one.

– Sherrie Matula, who had a couple of good runs for State Rep in HD129 prior to the 2011 redistricting, is a candidate for HCDE in Precinct 2, while Marilyn Burgess is running in Precinct 4. There are no At Large HCDE spots on the ballot this year.

– Commissioner El Franco Lee is unopposed, while former Council candidate Jenifer Rene Pool and Eric Hassan square off for the right to challenge Steve Radack in Precinct 3.

…And I do believe that’s a wrap. There may be some late additions or corrections – the SOS page may not have full information from the county parties, for instance – but this is a decent overview. There are a few names on the ballot that I wouldn’t mind seeing disappear, and trying to make sense of all these races and candidates will be a monumental task with not a whole lot of time to accomplish it, but overall this is a good thing. Much better to have a plethora of candidates than a dearth in a democracy.

Endorsement watch: Bell for King

As the headline notes, this came as a surprise to many.

Chris Bell

Chris Bell

Former Congressman Chris Bell publicly backed fiscal conservative Bill King in the Houston mayoral runoff Tuesday, a move that could bolster King’s efforts to make inroads with progressive voters.

Bell’s endorsement came as a surprise to many political insiders expecting the progressive former mayoral candidate to support King’s rival, Democrat Sylvester Turner.

Bell cited King’s focus on pension reform, public safety, road repair and flooding as reasons for his endorsement, as well as the businessman’s thoughtful approach to policy issues.

“It might come as a surprise to some because of my political persuasion, but it really shouldn’t,” Bell said alongside King in Meyerland. “Truth be told, we agree much more than we disagree. As far as the major principles of his campaign, we’re in complete agreement.”

If you say so, Chris. From my perspective, the main area of overlap between the two campaigns was an enthusiasm for bashing Adrian Garcia. On a number of issues I can think of, from HERO to the revenue cap to ReBuild Houston to (yes) pensions, there seemed to be little in common. It’s easier for me to see agreement between Steve Costello and Sylvester Turner than it is for me to see concurrence between Bell and King. Perhaps it’s in the eye of the beholder, I don’t know. But really, on a broader level, it’s that Bell positioned himself quite purposefully to Sylvester Turner’s left, with his greater purity on LGBT equality being a main point of differentiation. Though he missed out on getting the Houston GLBT Political Caucus’ endorsement – amid a fair amount of grumbling about Turner buying the recommendation via a slew of last-minute memberships – Bell had a lot of support in the LGBT community; a couple of his fervent supporters courted my vote at the West Gray Multi-Service Center by reminding me of an old Turner legislative vote against same sex foster parenting. This is why it’s hard to believe his claims about there being so much in common between him and King, and why this announcement was met with such an explosion of outrage and cries of betrayal. It’s not a partisan matter so much as it is a strong suspicion that either the prior assertions about being the real champion of equality were lies or that this endorsement had to come with a prize. If Chris Bell honestly believes that Bill King will be the best Mayor, that’s his right and his choice. But no one should be surprised by the reaction to it.

Does this help King? Well, he needs to get some Anglo Dem support to win, and that was Bell’s base. Of course, speaking as someone in that demographic, I’ve seen very little evidence that any of his erstwhile supporters were impressed by this. Quite the reverse, as noted above. I guess it can’t hurt, I just wouldn’t expect it to do much.

In the meantime, various organizations have been issuing new and updated endorsements for the runoffs. A few highlights:

– As previously noted, the HCDP endorsed all Democratic candidates with Republican opponents. That means Sylvester Turner for Mayor, Chris Brown for Controller, Georgia Provost, David Robinson, Amanda Edwards, Sharon Moses, Richard Nguyen, and Mike Laster for Council, and Rhonda Skillern-Jones and Jose Leal for HISD Trustee.

– The Houston GLBT Political Caucus added Georgia Provost and Karla Cisneros to their list of endorsed candidates. Turner, Brown, Edwards, and the incumbents were already on there. They did not take action on Moses and Leal.

– The Meyerland Democrats made their first endorsements in a city election: Turner, Brown, Provost, Robinson, Edwards, Nguyen, and Laster.

– Controller candidate Chris Brown sent out another email touting endorsements, this time from five previous Controllers – Ronald Green, Annise Parker, Sylvia Garcia, George Greanias, and Kathy Whitmire. As you know, I’m glad to see Green support him.

– As noted here, the Harris County GOP Executive Committee endorsed Willie Davis in AL2, though it wasn’t exactly unanimous.

– The Log Cabin Republicans transferred their endorsements to Bill King and Mike Knox, and reiterated their support for David Robinson, Jack Christie, and Steve Le. Guess being staunchly anti-HERO has its drawbacks.

– A group called the Texas Conservative View endorsed the candidates you’d expect them to – King, Frazer, Knox, Davis, Roy Morales, Christie, Steve Le, Jim Bigham – and one I didn’t, Jason Cisneroz. All of them were repeats from November except for Morales; they had previously endorsed Jonathan Hansen.

– Finally, the Houston Association of Realtors gave Bill King an endorsement that does mean something and makes sense, along with Amanda Edwards.

I think that catches me up. I’m sure there will be more to come – in particular, the Chron has a few races to revisit. They need to pick a finalist between Brown and Frazer, and make a new choice in AL1 and AL5. I’ll let you know when they do.

UPDATE: The line I deleted above about “being staunchly anti-HERO” was a reference to Willie Davis not getting the LCR endorsement in At Large #2. It made sense in my head when I wrote it, but I can see now that I didn’t make that clear at all. And given that the LCRs endorsed David Robinson in November, it doesn’t make sense even when I clarify who I intended that to be about. So, I take it back. Sorry for the confusion.

GOP versus Hall

Pass the popcorn.

RedEquality

The Harris County Republican Party released a flyer Monday attacking Houston mayoral candidate Ben Hall for his Democratic ties and previous support for a nondiscrimination ordinance.

Among top-tier mayoral candidates, Hall, a Democrat, is the most ardent critic of the city’s equal rights ordinance, known as HERO. The law is set to appear on November’s ballot.

“Ben Hall says yes to HERO ordinance in 2013,” the GOP flyer reads, citing a 2013 Harris County Democratic Party questionnaire on which Hall said he would support a nondiscrimination ordinance.

The ad also labels Hall a “current Democratic Party sustaining member” and claims he contributed more than $100,000 to Democrats, including President Barack Obama, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Secretary of State John Kerry, citing campaign finance reports.

Hall responded in a statement Tuesday afternoon saying he has been “crystal clear” on HERO.

“Ben Hall is the only candidate, Democrat or Republican, who has been opposed to the HERO ordinance from the very beginning, long before the campaign began for Houston Mayor, long before the court put it on the November ballot,” he said.

The full Chron story is here, and here’s the interview I did with Hall in 2013. I have no desire to go back and listen to it, but my recollection is that he said No when I asked if he would support an equal rights ordinance. He wasn’t a firebrand about it, just matter-of-fact. I also recall being surprised by that, as to my knowledge he hadn’t been opposed it before. I can’t swear to that latter part, I can just say what I remember thinking at the time. Whether Hall is virgin pure on hating HERO since the dawn of time or he cynically came to oppose it as a matter of political expediency somewhere along the line is irrelevant to me, and should be irrelevant to any decent person. He’s a hater now, he’s loud and proud about it, and that’s what matters.

Not that I really care, but I am a little curious as to why the Harris County GOP decided to pick this fight. I get their objections, I just think this is an odd hill to engage on. Hall’s HERO history was no problem for uber hater Steven Hotze, who endorsed Hall, among others. It’s fine by me if the antis spread their votes around in the Mayor’s race; better odds for good candidates making it to the runoff that way.

Anyway. I’ve seen some people asking about which candidates support what things – HERO and otherwise. You can listen to my interviews, of course, or do something crazy like check out the candidates’ websites and attend candidate forums and things like that. If you’re looking for a shortcut, both the local GOP and the HCDP have candidate guides that may help answer your questions. And at some point, one presumes, the candidates – the Mayoral candidates in particular – will start flooding our mailboxes and the airwaves. Greg has more.

Should Lane Lewis resign as HCDP Chair to run for Council?

That’s the question some people are asking.

Lane Lewis

Lane Lewis

“What I want is someone who is going to be, at least in the political world, dedicated 100 percent to the mission of advancing the ideals of the Democratic Party,” said John Gorczynski, a local Democratic staffer and head of the Young Democrats of Texas. “If someone’s going to be running a campaign, I can’t imagine what that would look like.”

Lewis’ fundraiser next month will be hosted at the home of Bill Baldwin, the former county Democratic finance chair who resigned a few weeks ago to raise money for Lewis’ bid, a move intended to make the line between the party and the campaign clear. Some are calling for Lewis to follow Baldwin’s example and resign.

Rice University political scientist Mark Jones said Lewis should consider that, adding there would be a potential conflict of interest between Lewis trying to neutrally advance the Democratic Party – which includes several members running against him for council – while “competing in the trenches” himself.

“When you serve as party chair, you at least leave some of your political ambition at the door,” Jones said.

Lewis faces Houston Community College trustee Chris Oliver, local Democratic activists Jenifer Rene Pool and Philippe Nassif, Republican activist Trebor Gordon, and possibly Harris County Housing Authority chief Tom McCasland in the non-partisan race to succeed term-limited city councilman Stephen Costello in the At Large 1 council seat.

[…]

The county Democratic and Republican parties typically stay out of endorsing candidates in non-partisan municipal races, but Jones said that some Democratic elected officials and campaign staff may be pressured away from backing any of Lewis’ opponents.

Oliver and some Democratic activists also charge that Lewis could improperly use the party’s email list – though Lewis said the campaign email list was culled from his phone’s contacts, not the party’s -and that his time spent preparing the party for 2016 would now be split between his personal campaign and the party’s.

“That person should be focusing on Democratic Party politics, not city council politics,” said Oliver, a Democrat.

Lewis is not required to resign, as some but not all elected office holders are. My opinion is that we’re early enough in the cycle that being Chair and being a candidate are not inherently in conflict. Any candidate running a full-fledged campaign is likely to find as time goes on that it doesn’t leave much room in his or her life for other things. Lewis may eventually decide he should resign just to ensure he has enough hours in the day to do all the things he needs to do. Alternately, he may find that more and more Democratic activists, the kind of people whose vote he will want in November, are grumbling that the duties of HCDP Chair are being neglected and someone else needs to take over to ensure there isn’t a mess to clean up going into 2016. Or maybe he’ll be able to handle it all, and the complaints will be limited to his opponents and their supporters. As I say, I think it’s too early to know. But he should be prepared to resign at the first sign of the juggling act being too much. Lane Lewis has done a good job as HCDP Chair, but no one is irreplaceable. If leaving will be necessary, better to do so a little too early than a little too late. A statement from candidate Philippe Nassif is here, and Campos has more.

Lane Lewis announces for At Large #1

Interesting.

Lane Lewis

Lane Lewis

Harris County Democratic Party chair Lane Lewis will run for an at-large city council position, he told Democratic activists Wednesday evening.

Lewis, who has led the county’s party operation since 2011, is running to succeed Stephen Costello in At-Large Position 1, one of two open-seat at-large races next year. Lewis will remain party chair during his campaign.

Several other candidates already have appointed campaign treasurers in advance of runs for at-large positions, though only Philippe Nassif, a local Democratic activist, has specified that he will run for Position 1.

As does Texpatriate, I like Chairman Lewis. Also like Texpatriate, I’m not sure why there’s so much more focus on At Large #1 right now than on any other position. Jenifer Pool may not have officially specified what position she’s running for, but she has been telling people it’s AL1, and her business cards identify her as a candidate for that office. At Large 4, currently held by CM Bradford, will also be open, though no one has yet indicated they will run for it. At Large 5 may be open as well if CM Christie runs for Mayor, and even if he doesn’t I believe he has a glass jaw. I will be more than a little surprised if no one files to run against CM Kubosh in At Large 3. It’s early days and we should expect a lot of activity to begin in a few weeks, but as things stand right now I don’t look forward to the choice I’ll have to make in At Large #1. Stace has more.

SCOTUS declines to intervene on voter ID

Unfortunate.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

The Supreme Court said Saturday that Texas can use its controversial new voter identification law for the November election.

A majority of the justices rejected an emergency request from the Justice Department and civil rights groups to prohibit the state from requiring voters to produce certain forms of photo identification in order to cast ballots. Three justices dissented.

The law was struck down by a federal judge last week, but a federal appeals court had put that ruling on hold. The judge found that roughly 600,000 voters, many of them black or Latino, could be turned away at the polls because they lack acceptable identification. Early voting in Texas begins Monday.

The Supreme Court’s order was unsigned, as it typically is in these situations. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan dissented, saying they would have left the district court decision in place.

“The greatest threat to public confidence in elections in this case is the prospect of enforcing a purposefully discriminatory law, one that likely imposes an unconstitutional poll tax and risks denying the right to vote to hundreds of thousands of eligible voters,” Ginsburg wrote in dissent.

[…]

The court had intervened in three other disputes in recent weeks over Republican-inspired restrictions on voting access. In Wisconsin, the justices blocked a voter ID law from being used in November. In North Carolina and Ohio, the justices allowed limits on same-day registration, early voting and provisional ballots to take or remain in effect.

Ginsburg said the Texas case was different from the clashes in North Carolina and Ohio because a federal judge held a full trial on the Texas election procedures and developed “an extensive record” finding the process discriminated against ballot access.

The order came out early Saturday morning, which makes SCOTUSBlog‘s analysis of it, published at 5:32 AM, all the more impressive. Look, this sucks, but let’s not fall into despair over it. We hadn’t expected there to be a ruling on voter ID before the election, which is why the good guys have been preparing for it to be in place. Neither the Fifth Circuit ruling nor the SCOTUS ruling has anything to do with the merits of Judge Ramos’ opinion. That will come later, as well as a ruling on whether or not Texas should be put back under preclearance via Section 3 of the Voting Rights Act. Feel angry all you want about this, but please don’t feel depressed. That just plays into the suppressionists’ hands. PDiddie, Nonsequiteuse, the Texas Election Law Blog, and Newsdesk have more.

What effect will this actually have? It’s hard to say, and no, the earlier elections we had, with turnouts less than ten percent and involving the hardest of the hardcore voters, don’t suggest anything. It would be nice to have some objective data, and we may get it this time around.

U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro requested Friday that the Government Accountability Office analyze voter turnout in Texas this year to determine if the state’s voter identification law – which earlier this week was reinstated by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals – disproportionately impacts the voter turnout of minorities.

In his letter to Comptroller General Gene Dodaro, the San Antonio Democrat asked the GAO to compare voter turnout in Texas to other states; analyze the cost and prevalence of various forms of identification; examine voter outreach; and determine the pervasiveness of in-person voter fraud.

“Regardless of political posturing, the essence of democracy rests in the right to vote – when that right is threatened so is our democracy and freedom,” Castro wrote in his letter.

[…]

The Government Accountability Office said it did receive Castro’s letter but would not make a decision for a few weeks on whether to investigate.

We’ll see what happens. I doubt actual data will sway proponents’ opinions, but it would still be nice to have. Regardless, bring your ID when you vote, and remember that only by voting in sufficient numbers can we prevent terrible laws like that from being passed. Early voting hours and locations for Harris County are here. For those of you in my neck of the woods, please note that the Moody Park location is open again after having been closed for the past two elections due to construction. I’ll be keeping track of the daily totals as they get posted. On the absentee ballot front, there have been 32,128 mail ballots returned so far, with the analysis showing that Democrats in Harris County have the lead. As we have discussed before, that’s a testament to the HCDP’s mail ballot program. I’ll be very interested to see what those numbers look like when they get posted at 7 PM on November 4.

Mail ballots

Campos:

AbsenteeBallots

I put out this yesterday and it got some buzz:

In 2010, here in Harris County, 54,625 folks voted by mail. 24,231 went straight GOP and 11,448 went straight Dem. 31,101 voted for Governor Perry and 22,875 for Bill White.

In 2012, 75,177 voted by mail with 28,608 going straight GOP and 19,557 going Dem. 43,270 voted for Mitt Romney and 31,414 voting for the President.

As of yesterday here in Harris County, 80,641 mail ballot applications have been submitted. 36,910 of the applications have been generated by the Democratic Party or Democratic candidate campaigns and 34,381 by the GOP and GOP candidate campaigns.

Here are the new numbers:

As of yesterday (Oct. 8) here in Harris County, 82,129 mail ballot applications have been submitted. 37,250 of the applications have been generated by the Democratic Party or Democratic candidate campaigns and 35,230 by the GOP and GOP candidate campaigns.

Now what I didn’t say because I didn’t know until I checked was in 2012, the Harris County Clerk mailed out a little over 92,000 mail ballots and 76,000 were returned. That means 16,000 or so never made it back and didn’t get counted. I am figuring the Dems know this and are following up if you know what I mean. Dems are not going to let the mail ballots sit at home. Regardless, this looks like a pretty impressive effort. Just to approach the 2012 figure is A-Okay. Nice work! Keep following up!

I wrote about this a couple of weeks ago. I had some questions at the time about how these voters were being targeted, which have been addressed. This looks like it will be very effective. As of yesterday, about 12,000 of these ballots had already been returned. According to Kyle Johnston’s analysis of the roster, about 54% of the ballots were returned by people that could be classified as Democrats, 37% by Republicans, and the rest undetermined. That’s not a bad start, and there are still two weeks in which one can request a mail ballot.

Well, assuming those ballots make it in to be counted.

Hundreds of mail-in ballots that are being mistakenly held for days at a downtown post office will now be delivered to the Harris County Clerks Office.

The downtown post office was holding the ballots for insufficient postage, something they are not supposed to do.

“We found a glitch. And we’re going to expose this,” said Harris County Democratic Chairman Lane Lewis.

Lewis found out about the ballots and offered to pay for the postage shortage. Almost all the ballots were short on postage by just pennies.

“These votes whether Republican or Democrat, I don’t know, but they need to be counted,” said Lewis.

A postal worker told Eyewitness News the shortage was about $57.

[…]

Eyewitness News learned Stanart made his own mistake. The return ballot states the postage is 69 cents. But it should have been 70 cents. Some ballots were being held for just a penny. Stanart said he didn’t know about the change in postage.

“I personally didn’t. I would have to talk to my office if they do know that,” said Stanart.

That’s your Houston Chronicle-endorsed County Clerk Stan Stanart right there, ladies and gentlemen. Isn’t he something?

Anyway. This is a Harris County program, and Lane Lewis and the HCDP get the credit for it. There are other mail programs going on around the state, though I doubt any will be as big as the HCDP’s will. While I know a decent number of the people targeted by Lewis and the HCDP are Presidential year voters, surely a fair number of these ballots are coming from people that would have turned out anyway. This isn’t a silver bullet, because there aren’t any, it’s just one of a lot of small, medium, and large things that need to be done to try to close the gap. It’s in addition to the voter registration numbers, for which there’s more good news and a bit of national attention. You have to feel good about it.

Again, it’s still too early to draw any conclusions, and even if everything is going exactly according to plan there’s still a ginormous gap that needs to be closed. Like I keep saying, even a really big step forward can fall well short. But what this election feels like to me is a dogfight. We’ve got Abbott and Patrick running attack ads even as the narrative was that frontrunners don’t do that. We’ve got the voter ID ruling, which came down late yesterday and for which I’ll have more tomorrow. It’s game on. Get out there and make something happen.

Wilson sued over residency for HCC

Dave Wilson and lawsuits go together like peanut butter and jelly.

Dave Wilson

Dave Wilson

The Harris County attorney sued Houston Community College trustee-elect Dave Wilson on Thursday, alleging the small business owner and anti-gay activist was not a resident of District II when he was elected to the post last month.

“We think there is a reasonable doubt as to whether he lives within the district, and it needs to be clarified,” said First Assistant County Attorney Robert Soard.

The three-page civil suit petition, filed in the 151st District Court, does not say where Wilson lives, but Soard said the grounds for the lawsuit are “similar” to ones raised by the defense in a still-pending lawsuit that Wilson, a perennial candidate, brought against the Harris County Democratic Party chairman in 2010, when he was kept off the ballot after filing to run for Precinct 4 Harris County commissioner.

That year, then-Chairman Gerry Birnberg argued that Wilson was ineligible to run because he had listed an address on his application that was not his residential address, as required by election code. Wilson’s wife, Connie, still lists a property at 7370 Lake Lane, which is in the Lone Star Community College System district, as her residential homestead, according to the Harris County Appraisal District website.

Wilson, who ousted HCC Chairman Bruce Austin in the Nov. 5 election by 26 votes, contends that he lives in “a 1,140-square-foot apartment upstairs” at his office, located at 5600 W. 34th St. in the college system’s District II.

The building there is an 11,340-square-foot commercial metal warehouse, according to county records.

Asked Thursday if he was living separately from his wife, Wilson said, “That’s a personal matter, and it’s none of yours or the Chronicle’s business.”

“I think that county records still show that we’re married. That’s all I’ll say,” Wilson said.

So to review, Wilson was removed from the ballot in 2010 by then-HCDP Chair Gerry Birnberg on the grounds that he did not live in County Commissioner Precinct 4. Wilson then filed a lawsuit against the HCDP to be reinstated on the ballot, but he lost. He subsequently also filed a federal lawsuit against a larger list of plaintiffs alleging that his civil rights were violated by being denied a spot on the ballot. The suit was dismissed by a federal district court, but the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals granted his petition for a rehearing in 2012. I don’t know where that now stands.

In any event, in looking at these old posts, three things stand out to me. One is that the address Wilson was using to get on the ballot in 2010 was 1512 W. 34th Street, not 5600 W. 34th Street as he apparently used for his HCC filing. He was still using the 1512 address in his 2011 filing for Mayor. Does he have more than one warehouse that he claims to be his residency when he needs it, or did he move between then and now? A little fooling around on Google Maps tells me the two addresses are 2.8 miles apart. Not very far, but it’s not impossible that one might cross a political boundary or two in the journey. That would be another reason why it would ne nice to know when he started using the 5600 address. Second, while Wilson is playing coy with his marital status now, in 2010 he stated he that he was in fact separated from his wife. Finally, the one constant in all this is the 7370 Lake Lane address where Connie Wilson lives. Make of this what you will.

So what this means is that we ought to get a fuller airing of the facts this time. In 2010 he was booted at Gerry Birnberg’s discretion, and the courts declined to give Wilson relief. Here it’s Harris County that’s taking action after the fact, and I very much look forward to seeing the case play out. The HCC Board itself says it wasn’t their job to vet the candidate filing. That’s a question Rep. Harold Dutton brought up to them, and I have a sneaking suspicion Rep. Dutton will attempt to deal with that in the next legislative session. Wilson ran again for County Commissioner in Precinct 4 in 2012. That time, his application was accepted, and he wound up losing in the primary to Sean Hemmerle. I don’t know which address he used for that application, but clearly someone should find that out. If he was still using 1512 W. 34th Street, then he needs to be pinned down on when he moved.

Anyway. The saga continues, as they often do. No indication in the story when there will be a hearing on this, but one presumes it will be after the holidays. One also presumes the question of whether or not the County Attorney has standing to file such a suit will arise. Like I said, I very much look forward to seeing how this plays out.

Why stealth campaigns can work

Here’s the Chron story about the HCC Trustee election results. See if you can spot what’s missing.

A total of 13 candidates, including the four incumbents, vied for the five open seats on the nine-member board. Many ran on a platform that called for more transparency, a stronger ethics policy and hiring a new chancellor who can move the institution forward.

The candidates agreed HCC is an asset to the community. As one of the nation’s largest community college systems with 75,000 students, HCC plays a critical role in producing skilled employees and degree holders who are prepared to enter the workforce, they said.

The HCC board has been dysfunctional, and some board members have engaged in unethical practices by awarding contracts to relatives, friends and political allies in recent years, damaging the community’s trust, said many candidates. They vowed to restore that trust.

In the District 1 race, incumbent Yolanda Navarro Flores was headed for a runoff against Zeph Capo, based on final unofficial results. Flores, who was censured by the board for unethical behavior in 2011, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

District 2 incumbent Bruce Austin, first elected in 1989, narrowly lost to small-business owner Dave Wilson. Austin, 60, had said the district has to work on ways to get students to graduate on time and to improve developmental education. Transparency is also an issue, he had said, noting that the board requires ethics training for board candidates.

So a 24-year incumbent gets ousted in a race decided by 26 votes, and what do we learn about his victorious opponent? Just that he’s a “small-business owner”. Not that he’s a notorious, longtime anti-gay activist who ran against Mayor Parker in 2011 and is currently embroiled in a legal battle against the Harris County Democratic Party over his attempts to run for County Commissioner while claiming his business address as his residence. Not the fact that he meddled in the HCC 1 race by sending one of his patented attack mailers, sliming Zeph Capo and Kevin Hoffman for being gay. Not the fact that the mail he sent on his own behalf would make you think he himself was African-American, which he is not. Just, you know, a “small-business owner”. Nothing to see here, folks.

Barring anything strange from the provisional and overseas ballots, we appear to be stuck with this asshole for the next six years. I call on all the other Trustees to do everything they can within the rules to marginalize him and prevent him from doing any damage to the HCC system or its students. I also remind everyone that while Wilson might have snuck into office, you can at least help oust the incumbent candidate he tried to help. If you live in HCC 1 – and if you’re not sure, check your voter registration card now or go to the Tax Assessor webpage to find out – be sure to show up in December and vote for Zeph Capo against Yolanda Navarro Flores. Because these races do matter, and bad things can happen when we’re not paying attention.

How city candidates have voted in past primaries

This is great to see.

The Harris County Democratic Party does not endorse candidates in the non-partisan City of Houston elections; however, in an effort to keep you informed as to which candidates are Democrats and which are not, we are providing this information page.

Candidates and elected officials who are current Sustaining Members of the Harris County Democratic Party are marked with a sustaining member badge on their photos. We have also included information regarding how each candidate voted in the last 3 (2012, 2010, 2008) Primary elections. Those noted with a “D” indicate that they voted in the Democratic Primary, those noted with “R” indicate that they voted in the Republican Primary. When “N/A” appears, the individual had no voting history for that year’s Primary.

You can click on the candidate’s photo to be taken to their website so you can learn their positions on the issues that matter to you and make an informed choice at the ballot box in November.

Thanks to Stace for highlighting this. I called for something exactly like this two years ago when the process of electing a successor to then-HCDP Chair Gerry Birnberg had begun, so I am delighted to see it happen. As I noted then, this is something the Harris County GOP has been doing all along – you can see their page for the 2013 elections, which I think isn’t nearly as snappy as the Dems’ page. The Dem page does need to be updated to reflect the final, post-filing-deadline lineups in the HISD and HCC races – the GOP page is up to date on that, though they’re missing primary information for a lot of the school district and HCC candidates – and it would be nice if they included candidates for school districts other than just HISD. The fact that that did this at all, and in such a nicely presented way, is a big step forward. Kudos to all for the effort.

Mayoral multitude

Campos has an update on who’s running for what.

Keryl Douglas

Keryl Douglas

Commentary dropped by the City Secretary Office a couple of days ago to check out the latest campaign treasurer designations.

Here is who I will add to my political page later on today:

For Mayor: Keryl Douglas, Eric Dick, Michael Fitzsimmons, and Victoria Lane.

For At-Large 2: David Robinson, Dr. Carolyn Evans-Shabazz, and Brent Gordon.

For At-Large 3: As reported yesterday, Al Edwards.

For District B: Joe Joseph.

For District C: Pete Sosa.

For District D: Lana Edwards, Larry McKenzie, and Anthony Robinson.

For District G: Ben Taef.

Of course, these folks still have to plunk down the filing fee when the time comes.

Yes, former HCDP Chair candidate Keryl Douglas is running for Mayor. I’d heard about this from two different people before Campos did his digging at the City Secretary’s office. I have no idea why Keryl Douglas thinks she can be elected Mayor, but then the same can be said for everyone not named Annise Parker and Ben Hall. Speaking of whom, you have to figure Hall is not happy about this. Douglas will be competing with him directly for African-American voters. I’m sure he’d prefer to not have that competition.

You can see Campos’ list of candidates who have filed designation of treasurer papers here. This week is when campaign finance reports for the period ending June 30 will be appearing on the city’s reporting website. That will give a good indication about who’s running for what as well. I’ll be keeping an eye on those and will write about what I find. First order of business will be to see what Parker and Hall’s reports look like. Stay tuned.

Carl Whitmarsh

From the inbox:

Here’s the donation link. I sent a check, because I’m just old-fashioned. Carl has done a lot for Democrats in Harris County for a long time, and he deserves our support in his time of need. Please help if you can. Thanks very much.

And now a word from the HCDP

Note: The following is a guest post written by Michael Kolenc

A week has come and gone since the election, and while we still wait for the provisional ballots to be counted, we can say that the 2012 elections gave Harris County Democrats a reason for celebration. We won elections from the top to the bottom of the ticket; we expanded the capacity of the HCDP; and we moved out of our comfort zone to change the organizing culture of our local party.

HCDP Chair Lane Lewis has been making the case to everyone that will listen: Investing in the HCDP, so that it is a stronger and sustaining operation, will help us all achieve our goals. This past year demonstrates that commitment.

With the election now a week behind us, it is important for us to take a careful inventory of our work and how it contributed to electing Democrats. No one at the HCDP Campaign will claim to have re-created the rubric for how to run campaigns, but they will claim to having been focused on the goal of talking to a universe of targeted voters. It was this – with the help of some amazing candidates, elected officials, donors, staff and nearly 1,000 unique volunteers – that enabled the HCDP Campaign to be effective and deliver results.

Through the HCDP’s program over 36,000 doors were knocked, some 890,000 calls made from nine offices county-wide, and, for the first time, a vote by mail program was instituted making us competitive with the Republican’s program. These are not things that happen by accident or in a vacuum. Programs like these require planning, resources, and a commitment from stakeholders that this is the new way to operate. It requires a belief that organizing does not end on Election Day, but rather is a year-long process despite even or odd numbered years.

The work of the party has just started. 2013 municipal elections and the 2014 contests are here and require planning. In order to build upon the success we had this year – VMB program, voter contact numbers, and vastly increasing straight party ticket voting – we need to invest in our party.

Candidates, elected officials, donors, and party activists should want to see a HCDP that is focused the entire year on electing Democrats and not just in the six months before the election. As we approach the end to our first year with Chair Lewis at the helm, know that he will make the case once again about the importance of us all having a little skin in the game.

Michael Kolenc is a political advisor to Chair Lewis.

===============================================================

This is me speaking again. I now have my hands on a draft canvass and am happily crunching away to see what I can learn from it. I hope to get some empirical idea of how turnout, Latino voting, and other things went. I am encouraged by talk of involvement in the city elections, and we definitely need to be thinking about 2014 already. My thanks to Michael for his report on the HCDP’s activities for this past election.

Oliver to remain on the ballot

Can’t say I’m surprised.

The Lloyd Oliver Tree

Attorneys representing Harris County Democratic Chairman Lane Lewis and the state Democratic Party argued that perennial candidate [Lloyd] Oliver should be kept off the ballot because he violated a party rule prohibiting a complimentary remark he made about defeated District Attorney Pat Lykos, a Republican, but District Judge Bill Burke ruled that Oliver was not bound by that rule.

Burke also rejected the argument that the party, as a private association, has the right to determine who should be on the ballot, regardless of election results.

[…]

“I don’t think that what happened amounted to a rule violation under party rules,” Burke said after a two-hour hearing on Wednesday morning.

Oliver admitted saying that he would have voted for Lykos had he not been running against her. He told the court Wednesday that he made the statement the day after the primary, so she technically no longer was a candidate. He also argued that the party rule applied only to chairmen and other Democratic officials.

“I have a First Amendment right to compliment public officials,” he told the court.

The judge agreed.

“I don’t think that amounts to an endorsement of the Republican candidate, since she had been defeated by then, and it was coupled with a swipe at the prevailing candidate, Mike Anderson,” Burke said.

Oliver, who told the court that Wednesday was his birthday and that he was either 68 or 69, had likened Anderson to a prison guard.

Responding to the argument that a political party had the right to determine who should be on the ballot, Burke noted that most of the cases that Democratic Party attorneys cited involved decisions reached before voters went to the polls in party primaries.

“It seems to me to be a different situation that we have here when the party accepts the filing fee, Oliver campaigns, does whatever he does to win the election and does receive the majority of the votes in the primary,” the judge said.

The case had been remanded to state court last Friday, as noted by commenter Jerad Najvar in my previous post. You know how I feel about this. I agree with Judge Burke’s reasoning, and I think he would have set a potentially dangerous precedent had he ruled otherwise. The situation the party is in is unfortunate, but these things happen and it’s not right to undo the result of a primary over a silly statement by a silly person. (Speaking of the primary, the version of the story I saw said that Oliver won it “by 30,000 votes”. He actually won it by a bit less than 3,000 votes, as you can see on page 19 here. Math is hard, y’all.) The best course of action, which is what I plan to go back to doing, is to ignore the guy. It’s not like he’s going to be out on the campaign trail making further mischief. If Oliver subsequently manages to win this election as well, we should all remind him that he only filed for the race to increase his name ID. Having unquestionably achieved this objective, he should then go ahead and resign, so that he can collect the reward for his higher profile. I mean, actually being DA would be bad for his business as a defense attorney, am I right? Let us speak of this no more until after November 6. You can go back to sleep now, Lloyd. PDiddie has more.