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Last chance to make a good FIFA impression

Coming to the end of this very long process.

Houston’s diversity is being played up in the city’s recent push to host the 2026 men’s World Cup. Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner joined forces with prominent business people and community leaders to highlight the benefits of featuring such a rich multicultural community on the biggest stage for the global pastime.

Houston is one of 17 U.S. candidates that will be whittled down to 11 host slots for the 2026 games, hosted jointly between the United States, Canada and Mexico, which will provide another five host cities. With FIFA officials set to make a site visit to Houston Oct. 26 to prepare for their final decision later this year, local stakeholders are hammering the point harder than ever.

“Soccer is the world’s game, and as one of the most diverse cities in North America, bringing the World Cup here is a perfect match,” said Chris Canetti, former president of the Houston Dynamo and Dash and president of the Houston 2026 World Cup Bid Committee.

If chosen, Houston would host six games that would likely bring tens of thousands of fans to the city. Some would watch the game at the 70,000-plus seat NRG Stadium and more would simply soak up the atmosphere at bars, restaurants and gathering spots around the city.

Host cities could net between $90 million and $480 million beyond taxpayer contributions, according to a study by the Boston Consulting Group. Previous World Cups, including the 1994 U.S. tournament, have burdened public funds, but North American stakeholders say host cities can avoid unnecessary expenditures in 2026 by utilizing preexisting infrastructure, such as the Houston Texans’ home.

Officials said that 2026 is still working through the cost estimates with FIFA and expect to have more details after the Oct. 26 site visits.

[…]

While many media rankings give Dallas the slight edge over Houston due to the city’s larger AT&T Stadium, the Bayou City’s bid committee is touting Houston’s diversity and pointing to the city’s successful track record of hosting major sporting events, including the Super Bowl and Final Four.

See here for the last update. I’ll skip my usual nattering about the uselessness of these sports-related economic projections and just admit up front that it would be cool to host some World Cup games. The linked article at the end tries to suss out which 11 cities from the 17 contenders will get to host those games. I don’t see why Houston and Dallas have to be in competition with each other any more than they are with the other 15 wannabes, but we’ll know soon enough. I’m ready for this to be settled.

2021 Day Seven EV report: After the weekend

Let’s get right to it: These are the early voting totals for the 2021 election after Sunday:

Mail ballots: 36,517
In person: 19,901

You can see the full Day Seven report here. The “voters by type” breakdown on the last page only goes through Saturday, so I don’t have the most up to date numbers on drive through voting, but it’s a pretty small fraction of the total.

The thing that I noticed when I looked at the numbers was that Saturday was not the biggest day of in person voting, as I had expected it to be. My first thought was that this was an outlier, and that there had to be some reason for it that I would need to speculate on. Turns out, this is the new normal, at least for odd-numbered years. Look at the EV daily totals for 2019, 2017, 2015, and a few elections before then, and you’ll see that Saturday is a good day for turnout, but generally only the second best day. It’s the Friday that leads the pack, and that has been true for odd-numbered years going all the way back to 2009, the last year in which Saturday led the first week’s totals.

Odd years continue to be unlike the even-numbered years in that early voting is a much smaller piece of the pie. I consider the year 2008 to be an inflection point in voter behavior, in that it was the first year of any in which more than half of the total vote was cast before Election Day. That very much persists in even-year races, with nearly 88% of the vote in 2020 being cast early. Looking at previous Presidential years, 2016 followed this year’s pattern of Saturday not being the biggest day of the first week, but in 2012 and 2008 Saturday led the way. 2020 was a different kind of outlier because of the extra week of early voting and the supercharged early energy, but there you can see that there was a significant dropoff on Saturday after that frenzied first week.

So what has happened? Two things, I would guess. One is just that we are all used to voting early, even those of us who persist in waiting until Election Day. And two, because early voting is such a part of the fabric now, it’s more common for people to do it as part of their workday routine. I have voted during my lunch hour most years, and I think that’s pretty common. Whatever the reason, Saturday is not the huge narrative-setting day that it used to be in the EV process.

The rest of this week, if previous patterns hold, will wind up exceeding the first five days. I kind of think that won’t be the case, because of the large number of mail ballots, but we’ll see. In any event, the norm is for the first two to four days of this week to be similar to last week, with Friday being the biggest day of the whole period. I don’t know if that’s what we’ll get this time, but we’ll see. Have you voted yet?

Chron overview of the HISD Trustee elections

There is an election, with candidates, and they all deserve a paragraph and maybe a quote if they’re lucky so you can sort it all out and know how to vote.

Five seats on the Houston ISD Board of Education will be decided Nov. 2, potentially altering the shape of the nine-member board as the district finds a sense of stability with its first permanent superintendent in years but remains under threat of a state takeover.

Sixteen individuals, including the incumbents, are vying for the seats representing Districts 1, 5, 6, 7 and 9.

Several candidates pointed to the potential state takeover and previous board dysfunction as reasons that prompted them to seek office. Meanwhile, several incumbents noted recent progress and momentum with Superintendent Millard House II, who started in July and is working on a strategic plan for the district, as reason they wished to remain in their roles.

The board has changed in the two years since its infighting was laid bare by a video of a meeting for training on how to govern. Within the last five months, for instance, current trustees have unanimously hired House, expressed support for his decision to implement a mask mandate in defiance of a gubernatorial executive order, and approved a bigger-than-expected pay raise for teachers.

You can read the rest, or you can listen to my interviews with the candidates (you can see a full list of them in this post), or go back and read all the Chron endorsements, which give more than one paragraph to at least one of the candidates in each. And with all that, I do hope they have a similar piece about the HCC Trustee races. Even one paragraph is better than nothing.

A loaf of bread, a gallon of milk, a few Bitcoins

Not on my shopping list, sorry.

Be sure to add Bitcoin to your grocery list.

Coin Cloud, a Las-Vegas based digital currency machine company, is making it convenient to access some of the most popular cryptocurrencies by placing a number of its kiosks in some Houston H-E-B stores.

The machines work similarly to an ATM, except rather than withdrawing cash, customers deposit cash to buy and sell more than 30 cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, Ethereum, Dogecoin, Litecoin, several US dollar stablecoins and numerous DeFi tokens. Customers can also utilize Coin Cloud’s free mobile wallet to manage, store, buy or sell from anywhere in the world.

The company has kiosks in 47 U.S. states and Brazil, and now H-E-B marks its 2,000th kiosk location. The move is part of Coin Cloud’s expansion strategy to stay ahead of the growing popularity of digital currencies, which are often called tokens.

These are not the first Bitcoin ATMs to be found in Houston. Perhaps the difference here is that these allow you to deal in other cryptocurrencies. Lord knows I was dying for a place to cash in my Dogecoins. Anyway, there’s an interactive map you can use to find one of these things near you, if for some reason you need it.

(Note: this story was from a couple of months ago. I pulled it out of the drafts because why not. Has anyone seen one of these?)

On Rice and the AAC

It’s a great move for Rice. It also means they will need to step it up in men’s athletics.

On the job a few months in early 2014, Rice athletic director Joe Karlgaard met with alumni at a fundraiser in Boston.

On the trip, Karlgaard made the 50-mile drive to Providence, R.I., to meet with Mike Aresco, commissioner of the American Athletic Conference, the newest league in college athletics that debuted a few months earlier. The informal meeting included lunch at The Capital Grille and a brief tour of the AAC offices.

Over the next eight years, Karlgaard forged relationships everywhere he could, all part of a strategic plan to position Rice for the next round of conference realignment.

“Throughout the time, I’ve tried to build the right relationships, tried to listen very well to what it is that may better position us,” Karlgaard said. “The opportunity hasn’t always presented itself like it did the last several weeks.”

Calling it a “historic new direction” for the school’s athletic department, Rice accepted an invitation to join the American Athletic Conference on Thursday.

With the addition of six schools, all from Conference USA, the AAC will become a 14-team football league as early as 2023. Two other Texas schools — UTSA and North Texas — will join Rice, along with Alabama-Birmingham, Charlotte and Florida Atlantic to comprise a new-look AAC that will have a 10-state footprint.

[…]

The move will provide an increase in revenue for Rice, which received a $500,000 annual payout in C-USA. This past year, AAC schools received about $7 million.

Karlgaard pointed to ticket sales, sponsorships and fundraising as areas Rice should receive a financial bump from the change in conference. Rice will also receive increased visibility with the AAC’s deal with ESPN.

“I think it will have a significant economic impact,” he added. “I believe our distribution will be significantly better from the American Athletic Conference than they have been – ever, no matter what conference we’ve been affiliated with.”

[…]

Rice has made campus-wide facility upgrades in recent years, most notably the $31.5 million Brian Patterson Sports Performance Center in 2016.

Rice president David Leebron, who will retire in 2022 after 18 years, vowed to “invest more in the athletic program’s success.” At the top of the list on needed upgrades: 71-year-old Rice Stadium.

“We know our stadium needs some investment,” Leebron said. “But virtually everywhere else we have invested in major facilities and renovations. We’re in really good shape.” He added the move to the AAC “reflects stability in what our future looks like.”

See here for the background. Rice football hasn’t been a factor since the early David Bailiff years, the men’s basketball team last played in an NCAA tournament game in 1970, and the baseball team is trying to rebuild after a long decline (from an admittedly high peak). The women’s teams have been much more successful in recent years, so it’s up to the men to prove that they can be competitive in a tougher conference. More exposure and more money can help, but they’re not enough on their own. I speak for a lot of long-suffering Rice fans when I say we’ve been waiting a long long time for something good to happen. I sure hope this is a step in that direction.

That said, the alternative of being left behind as this was happening would have been a death knell. I have a lot of sympathy for our soon-to-be-former conference mates.

That future does not look as bright for C-USA, which is now left with eight schools: UTEP, Old Dominion, Southern Mississippi, Marshall, Louisiana Tech, Middle Tennessee, Western Kentucky and Florida International. Earlier this month, C-USA commissioner Judy MacLeod sent a letter to Aresco proposing an alliance of sorts between the two leagues. Instead, the AAC raided C-USA and the league reportedly could lose some of the remaining members to other conferences.

I feel especially bad for UTEP, who was an original WAC member when we joined that (now basically dead) conference in 1996, and for LaTech, which joined the smaller WAC after a bunch of the other schools split off to form the Mountain West Conference. At this point, I have a lot more affinity for them than for most of our former SWC rivals. Whatever happens with C-USA, I hope they land on their feet, and I hope we schedule them for some non-conference action going forward.

UPDATE: Also, too:

I approve this message.

2021 Day One EV report: Everyone likes voting by mail

Lots of mail ballots have been cast so far. Much more than any other kind.

Early voting began Monday for a handful of area school board and municipal races, state constitutional amendments and hundreds of millions of dollars in school district and municipal utility bonds.

Mail-in voting skyrocketed in Harris County with elections officials tallying 29,005 ballots on Monday compared to 5,335 on the first day of the 2017 election—the last comparable election.

Harris County Elections Administrator Isabel Longoria said county’s mailing of ballot applications to eligible voters over 65 contributed to the increase, a 444 percent jump compared to 2017— the last comparable election.

According to elections officials, 2,643 ballots were cast Monday in early in-person voting. By comparison, Monday’s total is three percent lower than the total first day of in-person voting in 2017.

Longoria said the decrease can be attributed to the items Houston had to vote on in that election which pulled more voters to the polls.

“From my perspective, basically, the same number of voters without the pull of city of Houston is a pretty good start,” Longoria said.

I’ve got the Day One totals here. I’m probably just going to do a couple of these updates, since the day to day activity is likely to be minimal, but I can tell you that 29K mail ballots is more than double the total number received in 2017, and almost as many as were cast in the much-higher turnout 2015 election. Some of this is the sending of ballot applications to all of the over-65 folks in the county (last time we’ll be doing that, thank you Greg Abbott very much) and some of it is just that more people have been voting by mail in recent elections and they like it. There will come a day, I just know it, when we will look back at what the Legislature did to voting rights this year, and wonder what the hell they were thinking.

As far as final turnout goes, we look back to 2017, the last (and so far only other) election that did not have city races. Final turnout was about 101K, with about 149K total votes in Harris County. There were some city bond issues on the ballot that year, which probably drove a bit of turnout. I’d put the early over/under line at that level, but I won’t be surprised if we fail to get there.

This is also our first election with new voting machines:

This election is the debut of new paper ballot machines that the county bought , Longoria added.

“The machines are running well,” she said. “What we are hearing is voters appreciate being able to see the result of how they voted and then to turn that vote into the ballot box.”

Yes, this expectedly low-turnout election is the shakedown cruise for the new machines. I’ll post my review of them when I go vote later in the week, but if you’ve already done your thing please let us know what you think of them.

One more thing, because this is cool:

You can see that on the last page of the EV report I linked to above. You want to know where the actual voters are coming from, and at what time of day, this is for you. I like it.

30 day campaign finance reports: HCC

PREVIOUSLY: HISD 30 day reports

As is usually the case, the HCC finance reports are not as interesting as the HISD reports, but review them we must, because these races really do matter. So here we begin.

Adriana Tamez, District 3
Brandon Cofield, District 3

Eva Loredo, District 8
Jharrett Bryantt, District 8
Victor Gonzales, District 8


Dist  Candidate     Raised      Spent     Loan     On Hand
==========================================================
3         Tamez     16,550      1,168        0      20,092
3       Cofield      3,455      2,625        0         829
8        Loredo      8,035      3,520    7,000       7,598
8       Bryantt      3,800      1,817        0       2,800
8      Gonzales        250          0        0         250

The July reports are here. As noted with the HISD reports, incumbents not on the ballot do not need to file 20 day or 8 day reports. Reagan Flowers is unopposed, so she gets to skip it as well. Dave Wilson (heavy sigh) is technically unopposed, and I don’t see any reports for him in the system. I’m sure he has some past reports in the system, but I can’t see them. If he didn’t file a report in July, then we have no idea what he’s been up to this election, which ain’t great. As for Jim Noteware, he did file a 30 day report but had no money raised or spent.

Not much else to say here. None of these amounts are enough to make a difference. Tamez and Loredo have run before, with Tamez in office since 2014 and Loredo since 2010 so presumably they have some name recognition. But Bruce Austin was a four-time Trustee when Wilson snuck past him with the help of some dirty tricks, so best not to take anything for granted. My interviews with Tamez, Loredo, Flowers, and Bryantt are running this week, so give them a listen and know who you’re voting for.

Superintendent House’s listening tour

I like what he’s been doing.

During his first week as Houston ISD’s superintendent in July, Millard House II said he welcomed feedback from everyone, especially those who long have been left out of important discussions.

He has been receiving a steady stream of feedback on small comment cards and at microphones at a series of town hall meetings.

Residents, employees and parents have complained to the leader of the state’s largest school district about campuses that have been neglected, asked him about how he plans to address issues, both new and old, and have urged him to prioritize children.

Specifically, House has heard about transportation woes exacerbated by a driver shortage, the district’s struggles to appropriately educate students with special needs, the neglect of school libraries and unequal access to resources and funding across the district.

The issues have been brought to House’s attention at a series of town halls he hosted in recent weeks.

The discussions are expected to inform conversations about his first strategic plan for HISD as its superintendent. In a brief interview, House said the gatherings were just the first step in collecting information for the plan, the first draft of which he hopes to have ready in the next couple months.

As speakers lined up at microphones, House cautioned audiences he still was new to the role and did not know everything.

“I am just over the 60-day mark, so I am not going to have answers for you this evening,” he said Wednesday at Booker T. Washington High School. “My purpose in being here is to hear you and then to infuse what you are providing to me as a superintendent and let you hold me accountable when it is all said and done.”

At each meeting, House emphasized the strategic plan will not be his or the Board of Education’s but “our” plan.

From the rest of the story, he seems to be doing a good job hearing what people are telling him and taking action, often getting the person asking the question involved in the solution. Each of the HISD trustees and candidates I’ve interviewed so far has had positive things to say about Superintendent House. It’s early, and whatever plan he comes up with to deal with things like special ed and improving underperforming schools and more equitably distributing HISD resources will surely have its share of critics. But he seems to be going about this the right way, and of course we all want him to succeed. There’s a lot on the line here, and we have no time to lose.

Early voting starts today for the 2021 election

Time to strap on the pads and get yourself out to the polling places:

A sample ballot for Harris County is here – note that it covers all of the local elections, so much of what you see will not be on your specific ballot. Early voting hours will be 7 AM to 7 PM every day except Sunday the 24th (12 PM to 7 PM) and Thursday the 28th, which will be 7 AM to 10 PM with 24-hour voting at select locations. You can see a map of locations here – there are a lot of them – and you can use the “find your nearest polling place” utility here. Note that there are also some drive-through locations. This is because the new voter suppression law does not take effect until next year. Enjoy these things while you still can.

Here’s a list of all my interviews for the cycle:

Elizabeth Santos, HISD District I
Janette Garza Lindner, HISD District I
Matias Kopinsky, HISD District I
Sue Deigaard, HISD District V
Maria Benzon, HISD District V
Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca, HISD District VI
Greg Degeyter, HISD District VI
Anne Sung, HISD District VII
Bridget Wade, HISD District VII
Dwight Jefferson, HISD District VII
Mac Walker, HISD District VII
Myrna Guidry, HISD District IX
Joshua Rosales, HISD District IX
Adriana Tamez, HCC District 3
Reagan Flowers, HCC District 4
Eva Loredo, HCC District 8
Jharrett Bryantt, HCC District 8

There are also the Constitutional amendments. If you’d like someone to explain them all to you with advice on how to vote, the latest edition of the H-Town Progressive podcast, with guest Andrea Greer, has you covered. This is going to be a low turnout election, you should be in and out in minutes at any location, so get out there and make your voice heard.

Hey, look, it’s a Robinson Warehouse update!

From the new CityCast Houston newsletter, Lisa Gray’s latest project.

What once was there

“It appears that the property purchased by the Aga Khan many years ago is under development,” writes City Cast subscriber Mickey Altman. “What is going on there?”

He’s talking about the enormous lot at 2323 Allen Parkway – right across from Buffalo Bayou Park’s alphabet-dude Tolerance sculptures, and with a looong edge facing Montrose. For 14 years, as midrise apartment empires rose all around, those 11 high-profile acres have languished, tantalizingly empty.

Their vacancy especially grated on Montrose denizens and architecture fans because they’d once slavered over the site’s possibilities. After the Aga Khan Foundation bought the place in 2006, it razed the crumbling brick warehouse that occupied the land and announced plans to build a big-deal Ismaili Centre like the ones in London, Vancouver and Lisbon.

The Aga Khan, a direct descendant of the prophet Muhammad, is the spiritual leader of the Ismaili sect of Shia Muslims. He’s also a world-class architecture fan, and Ismaili Centres in other cities present themselves as brick-and-mortar proof of Ismailis’ friendly, do-gooder worldliness. Houston’s Ismaili Centre was to be part park, part prayer hall, part conference center – and open to the Montrose public.

Then…nothing.

In 2010, Swamplot blog readers spotted construction trailers. False alarm! Those were for a bridge across the street.

“Hark, a fence!” snarked Swamplot in 2012, when new chainlink appeared. But construction failed to follow.

In 2013, earth-moving equipment rumbled across the field, and a contractor told a reporter that he was preparing a cricket field. Instead: Crickets.

At last, in February 2019, the Ismailis announced something. Passing over a passel of starchitect finalists – David Chipperfield, Jeanne Gang and Rem Koolhaas – they’d picked up-and-coming Farshid Moussavi, a Harvard professor. And to design the enormous grounds, they chose Thomas Woltz, known to Houstonians for revamping Memorial Park and the landscaping around Rothko Chapel.

And now, three years later? To answer Mickey Altman’s question, I emailed Farshid Moussavi’s office in London. “We anticipate that there will be a press release regarding the project sometime next month,” responded her studio manager, Ishwariya Rajamohan. But alas: No pretty drawings, and no real timetable.

But something is happening. Yesterday, from the southern edge, I saw earth-moving equipment, Port-a-Cans, and best of all, what looked like giant bathroom tile samples – presumably the architectural equivalent of fabric swatches, to show what how various exteriors might look on the site itself.

And so, yet again, we wait.

Lisa took a picture of the construction equipment she saw, so click over if you’re curious. I had driven past the site just a couple of days before she posted that and didn’t see anything at that time, but I drove by again on Thursday and sure enough, dirt had been moved. It’s all on the southern end at this point, right at the Montrose/West Dallas intersection.

I of course have been obsessed with the former Robinson Warehouse site since the old place was first being demolished in 2006 – yes, of course I observed the news about the architect noted in that piece – so this is very much of interest to me, even though my daily travels (or what will be my daily travels, when I start going back to the office) don’t take me by there any more. For sure, though, when there is something happening, I will make a point of getting over there on the regular to take more pictures of it.

By the way, I recommend visiting the CityCast Houston homepage and signing up for the daily newsletter. There will be a podcast coming soon as well. Lisa Gray is an excellent observer of the Houston scene, and it’s a pleasure getting her daily insights. The newsletter is free, so go sign up for it.

More on the Mac Walker ballot name situation

Good move by HISD.

Mac Walker

Houston ISD on Tuesday took responsibility for failing to include the nickname of a trustee candidate when it entered his name in a county elections office portal.

Lee “Mac” Walker, vying for district 7, said last week he learned of the issue when a voter asked whether he was on the ballot. On his application to run, he listed his preferred name — Mac — as the name he wanted identified on the ballot. He has been campaigning under the nickname.

He is listed on the ballot, however, simply as Lee Walker.

“HISD acknowledges and takes responsibility for the error in inputting Mr. Walker’s name into the Harris County Elections Administrator’s Office Entity Portal,” district officials said in a statement Tuesday. “Corrective actions and systems in the Office of Board Services have been put into place to ensure that this does not happen again.”

County elections officials said last week the name cannot be changed on the ballot, citing the resources and time required to perform a logic and accuracy test for the entire election before voting begins.

HISD said it will use both Walker’s legal and preferred name in election notices it is required to publish in a newspaper, on the bulletin board used for posting board meeting notices and on its website.

The district said it additionally will publish election notices in the Forward Times, La Voz and Vietnam Post and mail notices of the Nov. 2 election to registered voters in all five of the single-member districts having an election.

See here for the background. Sometimes you make a mistake that can’t be corrected. When that happens, you can at least make amends, and do everything you can to make sure it doesn’t happen again. That’s what HISD has done here, and as someone who wants fair elections, I appreciate it. It’s not the best of all possible situations, but it was the best they could do given what had already happened. That’s all you can ask.

Endorsement watch: Incumbents go one for three

In HISD District VII, the Chron goes with a challenger, in this case Mac Walker.

Mac Walker

In unruly classrooms and school boards alike, you’ve got good kids, you’ve got troublemakers, and then you’ve got the good kids who, for some reason, follow the troublemakers down a path to mischief.

That was Anne Sung in 2018. Amid the HISD board’s dysfunction, this Harvard-educated, former award-winning HISD physics teacher and strong advocate for special education whom we had enthusiastically endorsed for District VII trustee joined colleagues who met secretly with former Superintendent Abe Saavedra, which state officials say violated Texas’ open meetings law. Three days later she voted to swap Saavedra for interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan.

Sung apologized and said she only wanted Saavedra’s advice on state oversight issues and didn’t know of plans to hire him until moments before she voted for it.

“I didn’t understand what was happening,” she told us. We don’t know what’s worse — premeditating a school board coup or hastily voting for it, without public input, after two minutes’ deliberation.

Incumbents only lose our endorsement when there’s a qualified replacement and luckily there’s Mac Walker.

Listed on ballots as “Lee Walker” due to a district error, he’s a first-time candidate whose motivation truly seems to be raising up the district that raised him.

My interview with Mac Walker is here, with Anne Sung is here, with Bridget Wade is here, and with Dwight Jefferson is here. Clearly, Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca got luckier with her opposition than either Anne Sung or Elizabeth Santos did. The editorial also touches on the ballot name situation, so hopefully as many people as possible will be properly informed about that.

Over in the HCC races, the Chron stays with one incumbent, Adriana Tamez in District 3.

Adriana Tamez

In 2013, when the editorial board endorsed Dr. Adriana Tamez for an unexpired term on the Houston Community College Board of Trustees, she represented a breath of fresh air on a board mired with longstanding issues of cronyism and dereliction.

Two years later, when we endorsed her again — for a full term this time — it was because she impressed us with her stalwart commitment to workforce development and unabashed calls for financial accountability in her first term. Today, she’s campaigning on the same platform.

Despite some clear blemishes on her record these past six years, her steady demeanor, deep well of educational, financial and managerial knowledge and focused grasp of the remaining gaps in HCC’s system leads us to recommend District III voters give Adriana Tamez, 57, another term representing southeast Houston.

Tamez can point to concrete achievements she’s helped usher in for HCC. From cementing partnerships with Apple and the PepsiCo Foundation to help students access career opportunities, to expanding dual-credit programs in high schools and working on investing COVID funds in resilient online infrastructure, she has put her nearly three decades of educational experience — as a bilingual teacher, principal, HISD central region superintendent, president and CEO of a charter school — to good use.

My interview with Adriana Tamez is here; I did not interview her opponent. I personally think she’s one of the better board members, and we’re going to need all the help we can get with sigh Dave Wilson coming back.

Over in HCC District 8, it’s another challenger as the Chron goes with Jharrett Bryantt.

Jharrett Bryantt

Since 2009, Eva Loredo has been a stalwart on the Houston Community College Board of Trustees, a former board chair who has provided stability and leadership through a storm of scandals.

There comes a time, though, when a bold challenger with fresh ideas can bring new vision to an entity sorely in need of it.

As such, we recommend Jharett Bryantt to represent this diverse district that stretches from southwest Houston to the Port of Houston.

Bryantt, 32, an assistant superintendent for HISD, is considered something of a rising star in education circles. Earlier this year, he was a finalist for superintendent for a mid-sized Utah school district.

His ambitions may go far beyond the borders of District VIII. Yet one of his areas of expertise — college readiness — dovetails nicely with HCC’s mission, and Bryantt impressed the editorial board with his ideas for improving HCC’s subpar 30 percent graduation rate. His proposal to tie graduation rates to the evaluation of HCC’s chancellor would bring much-needed accountability.

This kind of problem-solving was missing from Loredo’s pitch. Loredo, 69, talks about how she puts students first, but didn’t present a single idea on how to improve HCC’s declining enrollment — a 17 percent drop from 2019 to 2020. Loredo waved it off as part of a nationwide trend, which is true, but trustees should still act urgently to address it.

My interview with Jharrett Bryantt is here and with Eva Loredo is here. This is a legitimately tough choice – I have a lot of respect for Loredo, but Bryantt is an impressive and well-qualified candidate. Listen to the interviews and make up your own mind.

Interview with Joshua Rosales

Joshua Rosales

Every election I get at least one late response or contact from a candidate that I had not interviewed. This year I got a reply to my email to Joshua Rosales after the interview I did with Myrna Guidry had run. Rosales is another PTO dad as a two-term President at Hobby Elementary Dual Language Academy who works in strategic planning, marketing and growth at a global law firm. Here’s what we talked about:

PREVIOUSLY:

Sue Deigaard, HISD District V
Anne Sung, HISD District VII
Elizabeth Santos, HISD District I
Janette Garza Lindner, HISD District I
Matias Kopinsky, HISD District I
Bridget Wade, HISD District VII
Maria Benzon, HISD District V
Dwight Jefferson, HISD District VII
Mac Walker, HISD District VII
Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca, HISD District VI
Myrna Guidry, HISD District IX
Greg Degeyter, HISD District VI
Adriana Tamez, HCC District 3
Reagan Flowers, HCC District 4
Eva Loredo, HCC District 8
Jharrett Bryantt, HCC District 8

Interview with Jharrett Bryantt

Jharrett Bryantt

There are four HCC Trustee races this year – you can see the full list of candidates here. Three of the four races include a candidate backed by the execrable Dave Wilson, including the District 6 race where Wilson himself is running against a write-in candidate, because we live in the worst timeline. Jharrett Bryant, who is running in District 8, is the exception, and he is quite exceptional. A Teach for America alumnus who taught math and science in HISD before moving into administration, he is now the assistant superintendent for the Office of Strategy and Innovation at HISD. He has a doctorate in education leadership and policy from UT, and you can learn more about his professional background here. Here’s the interview:

PREVIOUSLY:

Sue Deigaard, HISD District V
Anne Sung, HISD District VII
Elizabeth Santos, HISD District I
Janette Garza Lindner, HISD District I
Matias Kopinsky, HISD District I
Bridget Wade, HISD District VII
Maria Benzon, HISD District V
Dwight Jefferson, HISD District VII
Mac Walker, HISD District VII
Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca, HISD District VI
Myrna Guidry, HISD District IX
Greg Degeyter, HISD District VI
Adriana Tamez, HCC District 3
Reagan Flowers, HCC District 4
Eva Loredo, HCC District 8

Endorsement watch: Garza Lindner and Vilaseca

The Chron goes against an incumbent in HISD District I.

Janette Garza Lindner

Trustee Elizabeth Santos, 39, is asking voters to keep her on the board representing Houston ISD District I. They shouldn’t.

Santos’ connection to the district is deep. She grew up attending its schools and taught English there. Her dedication to students shines through when she speaks. As a board member, she helped get raises for teachers and staff as a vocal champion for better pay in the district, whose teachers remain among the region’s lowest paid.

That record speaks in her favor, but it does not overcome her weaknesses as a board member.

An early strike against Santos came in late 2018, when she joined four other trustees to oust Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan in a surprise vote that came after the five had met with a former superintendent whom they then named to replace Lathan. The Texas Education Agency cited that apparent violation of the state’s open meetings law as partial grounds for replacing the whole board.

Santos defends her actions, and claimed in our meeting with her she hadn’t known in advance that Lathan would be fired. But the episode was deeply disruptive and showed poor judgment.

That was an early mistake, but unfortunately Santos has not provided the steady influence and smooth leadership that the school board, with all its recent acrimony, so badly needs. In interviews with us and other outlets recently, she has also struggled to share a cogent vision for how she’ll use a second term to steer the district to further success.

On the other hand, Janette Garza Lindner, 45, is a strong candidate. The mother of two HISD students, she grew up in Brownsville, bilingual in Spanish and English, as an adopted daughter of a widow who left school in the second grade and never learned to read. She graduated from the University of Texas and is an energy industry consultant and project manager. In 2019, she received training as a board fellow of Latinos for Education and serves on the leadership committee of Arts Connect Houston.

My interview with Elizabeth Santos is here, with Janette Garza Lindner is here, and with Matias Kopinsky is here. I noted the issue about the Lathan/Saavedra mess when the Chron endorsed Sue Deigaard, noting that she was not involved in the non-compliant meeting, but I totally forgot to mention that Santos was one of the trustees they might have opposed as a result. I don’t know how much this hurts Santos – she was not the Chron-endorsed candidate in 2017, either – but in a low-turnout affair it may boost Garza Lindner a bit. I figure this is going to a runoff anyway, so we’ll see then if Santos may be in some trouble.

Over in District VI, the Chron did endorse incumbent Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca despite her involvement in that meeting.

Holly Flynn Vilaseca

Overseeing the nation’s seventh-largest public school system does not accommodate learning curves. After Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca was appointed to the board in January 2017, the editorial board endorsed her for a full term , reasoning that nine months is hardly enough time to garner a first impression, let alone demonstrate the breadth of knowledge.

Through five years, three superintendents, an attempted state takeover of the district, Flynn Vilaseca has acquitted herself well on the board as a steady voice and an open mind with a deep fluency on education policy. We recommend District VI voters give her another term representing West Houston.

Flynn Vilaseca, 40, a bilingual former early childhood teacher, wants to bolster the district’s investments in special education and better train campus principals on managing finances to avoid wasteful spending. Her support for wraparound services for special education students is admirable and desperately needed in a district still routinely failing students with learning differences.

Flynn Vilaseca’s role in one of the more shameful chapters in the district’s history is a vulnerability. She was among five trustees who allegedly met in secret with former HISD superintendent Aberlardo Saavedra to coordinate replacing the interim superintendent with him. TEA officials alleged the “walking quorum” violated the Texas Open Meetings Act and led the agency to recommend replacing the entire board.

Flynn Vilaseca claims Saavedra was a long-time mentor and that she arranged the meeting so trustees could discuss “concerns on the board,” but never talked about hiring him. Why, then, did she hand Saavedra a copy of another former superintendent’s contract? According to her 2019 affidavit: “Because he had previously asked for it.”

Even if true, it doesn’t excuse how she was willing to vote days later, ostensibly with only a few minutes notice, without public input, to hire Saavedra.

That said, Flynn Vilaseca seemed sincere in her apology, and pledged to rebuild the public’s trust through transparency. We’re taking another chance on her because her collaborative, moderate voice is needed and because her challengers came up short.

My interview with Flynn Vilaseca is here and with Greg Degeyter is here. Maybe the difference in the Chron’s eyes between Santos and Flynn Vilaseca was the quality of the apology. We’ll see how Anne Sung fares when it’s her turn.

Interview with Eva Loredo

Eva Loredo

We now move over to HCC District 8, which is my district, and a visit with two-term incumbent Eva Loredo. Loredo spent 36 years as an educator, serving as teacher and principal, and is now a consultant. She consulted with TejasLEE as a national trainer for the University of Houston, and conducted the Houston METRO Light Rail Safety School Program for students. She became an HCC Trustee in 2009 via the weirdest path imaginable – see here, here, and here for the details. I interviewed her in 2015 when she ran for re-election the first time; you can listen to that here. Here’s what we talked about this time:

PREVIOUSLY:

Sue Deigaard, HISD District V
Anne Sung, HISD District VII
Elizabeth Santos, HISD District I
Janette Garza Lindner, HISD District I
Matias Kopinsky, HISD District I
Bridget Wade, HISD District VII
Maria Benzon, HISD District V
Dwight Jefferson, HISD District VII
Mac Walker, HISD District VII
Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca, HISD District VI
Myrna Guidry, HISD District IX
Greg Degeyter, HISD District VI
Adriana Tamez, HCC District 3
Reagan Flowers, HCC District 4

Interview with Reagan Flowers

Reagan Flowers

Dr. Reagan Flowers was appointed to the HCC Board of Trustees in District 4 following the election of Carolyn Evans-Shabazz to Houston City Council in 2019. Flowers is an educator and entrepreneur, the founder of C-STEM Teacher and Student Support Services, Inc., and Chief Knowledge Officer for Education Consulting Services, LLC, having previously been a science teacher at Yates High School. She ran for HCDE Trustee in 2012 and for HISD Trustee in District IV in 2019; I interviewed her for the former here. Here’s our interview:

PREVIOUSLY:

Sue Deigaard, HISD District V
Anne Sung, HISD District VII
Elizabeth Santos, HISD District I
Janette Garza Lindner, HISD District I
Matias Kopinsky, HISD District I
Bridget Wade, HISD District VII
Maria Benzon, HISD District V
Dwight Jefferson, HISD District VII
Mac Walker, HISD District VII
Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca, HISD District VI
Myrna Guidry, HISD District IX
Greg Degeyter, HISD District VI
Adriana Tamez, HCC District 3

Endorsement watch: Deigaard and Guidry

We are in the last week before early voting begins for the 2021 election, and that means it’s time for Chronicle endorsements. This would be waaaaaaaay late in a more normal year, but as we know there aren’t that many races on the ballot, so now is fine. Two endorsements today, both for incumbents, beginning with Sue Deigaard in District V.

Sue Deigaard

In District V, we recommend voters keep incumbent Sue Deigaard, 52, in the seat representing southwest Houston that she’s held since 2017.

Deigaard, a longtime public education advocate, contends House needs an experienced board to continue addressing massive challenges: according to state accountability ratings, 48 of HISD’s 276 campuses are categorized by state accountability ratings as D or F schools, and more than 95 percent of the students at those schools are children of color.

We believe Deigaard’s deep knowledge of finance and education governance will help implement the district’s forthcoming strategic plan to help schools improve. She wants in a second term to continue improving HISD’s education of students with special needs, and better fund not only the district’s worst-performing schools but also schools that are performing “fine” yet are still under-resourced.

Deigaard, who served a one-year stint in 2020 as board president, supported a performance audit to assess district spending and counts among her accomplishments an expansion of high-quality pre-K and helping the board increase teacher salaries this summer.

Unlike some other trustees seeking re-election, Deigaard didn’t take part in a sloppy spectacle in 2018 in which state regulators contend several trustees violated the Texas Open Meetings Act by surreptitiously meeting with a former HISD superintendent and then days later, voting without public debate to install him as superintendent and oust the interim leader.

My interview with Sue Deigaard is here. I also interviewed Maria Benzon, about whom the Chron said some nice things. That last paragraph above makes me think that Anne Sung and Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca may have something to worry about. We’ll know soon enough.

The Chron also recommended Myrna Guidry.

Myrna Guidry

Last December, HISD trustees unanimously appointed Myrna Guidry, an attorney, to replace Wanda Adams, who resigned after being elected as a justice of the peace. Guidry, 56, has proven a steadying influence on a board that’s been plagued by dysfunction and has earned our support for a full term.

Guidry’s argument for reelection is that her first 10 months as a trustee have been devoted to selecting a superintendent and stabilizing after a rough patch. She contends the district, under new leadership of Millard House II, is finally on the right path.

We appreciated her straightforward explanation of why she supported a mask mandate in HISD schools. Guidry explained that she listened to the medical experts and also her constituents who “overwhelmingly” supported mask use. Guidry, like the rest of the board, has more to do to earn the full trust of the community she represents. We believe she can. She is engaged in a range of civic organizations and displays a solid grasp of the inequities facing many in District IX and throughout HISD.

My interview with Myrna Guidry is here. I did eventually hear back from her opponent Joshua Rosales, and will run his interview on Friday. I’m a little surprised that the HISD mask mandate wasn’t a bigger part of these endorsement pieces so far – it’s my understanding that at least Caroline Walter in District V is anti-mask – but I suppose there are plenty of other issues to focus on.

I assume we’ll be getting these throughout the week, plus recommendations for the constitutional amendments (yes, we have those on the ballot as well) and perhaps some other area races that may be on your ballot but are not on mine. Get yourself in that voting frame of mind, because ready or not here it comes.

Interview with Adriana Tamez

Adriana Tamez

Early voting for the 2021 election begins in a week – I know, with so much going on this has kind of snuck up on all of us. This week I will be focusing on candidates for HCC Trustee (with one late HISD interview for Friday), and I will begin with Adriana Tamez, the incumbent in District 3. Tamez was appointed to the office in 2013 to fill the seat left vacant by now-State Rep. Mary Ann Perez, and won a full term in 2015. Tamez, who has a doctorate in Education Administration from UT, has been a teacher, principal, HISD Central Region Superintendent, and Associate Director of Development for UH’s College of Education, among other things. She is a founding member of the Tejano Center for Community Concerns and now serves on the Harris County Housing Authority Board of Commissioners. You can listen to the interview I did with her in 2015 here, and you can listen to the interview I did with her this year below:

PREVIOUSLY:

Sue Deigaard, HISD District V
Anne Sung, HISD District VII
Elizabeth Santos, HISD District I
Janette Garza Lindner, HISD District I
Matias Kopinsky, HISD District I
Bridget Wade, HISD District VII
Maria Benzon, HISD District V
Dwight Jefferson, HISD District VII
Mac Walker, HISD District VII
Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca, HISD District VI
Myrna Guidry, HISD District IX
Greg Degeyter, HISD District VI

30 day campaign finance reports: HISD

HISD and HCC elections are the main event this November, and as we approach the start of early voting, we can now look at the 30-day campaign finance reports for the candidates. Here’s what things look like in HISD.

Elizabeth Santos, District I
Janette Garza Lindner, District I
Matias Kopinsky, District I

Sue Deigaard, District V
Maria Benzon, District V
Caroline Walter, District V

Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca, District VI
Kendall Baker, District VI
Greg Degeyter, District VI

Anne Sung, District VII
Bridget Wade, District VII
Dwight Jefferson, District VII
Mac Walker, District VII

Myrna Guidry, District IX
Gerry Monroe, District IX
Joshua Rosales, District IX


Dist  Candidate     Raised      Spent     Loan     On Hand
==========================================================
I     Santos        23,383      7,319        0      18,733
I     Lindner       60,385     12,809        0      44,500
I     Kopinsky       3,492      2,905        0       1,619
V     Deigaard      31,565     15,662        0      42,728
V     Benzon         6,297      2,555        0       3,741
V     Walter        14,792      8,535        0       8,977
VI    Vilaseca      42,632     12,792        0      52,853
VI    Baker          8,370      6,604        0       1,765
VI    Degeyter       1,703      2,887    2,900       1,703
VII   Sung          64,506     18,888        0      61,419
VII   Wade          78,655     58,612    7,000     142,906
VII   Jefferson        712     16,008   17,000           0
VII   Walker        64,776      4,263        0      58,412
IX    Guidry        10,000     11,864    7,500       5,636
IX    Monroe        25,500     15,429   10,000         120
IX    Rosales        1,702      1,818    1,786       1,669

The July reports are here. Incumbents not up for election do not have to file 30 day or 8 day reports, so we’ll next hear from them in January. Not everyone listed here had a July report, so for some people this is all we have.

This is one of those non-city election years, and with all that’s going on nationally and in Austin I don’t know how much people are even aware of these races, let along how much they’re paying attention to them. I live in District I and I do see a fair number of yard signs, for all three candidates. With the pandemic and work from home I’m not out and about much, and as such I have no idea what things might look like in other districts. Are you seeing any signs of activity where you live, if you have an HISD race on your ballot? Please leave a comment and let me know.

I’m a little surprised there isn’t more money in the District V race. Sue Deigaard raised almost the exact same amount as she did last period – I actually went and double checked to make sure I wasn’t looking at the wrong report. I might have expected Maria Benzon, who is being supported by the teachers’ union, to have raised more. I know they’re going to spend some money on her behalf (and on behalf of their other candidates), but I still expected to see some of that in her report. As for Caroline Walter, one of the anti-mask candidates on the ballot, I will note that she got $2,500 from Cal and Hannah McNair. Those of you that haven’t given up on the Texans yet, make of that what you will.

District VII is the race with the most money in it. Bridget Wade had a nice followup to her huge July haul, Anne Sung stepped it up from July, and Mac Walker did well. Dwight Jefferson is the odd one out, but there’s always someone who doesn’t raise much. I’m told that Wade is advertising on TV, and indeed her report shows $30K for “cable/OTT media buy”. Anyone out there seen one of her ads?

In District VI, perennial candidate/loser Kendall Baker got most of his money from himself (he listed a $5000 self-contribution), plus $2000 from Hannah McNair. She sure can pick ’em. Gerry Monroe got $10K from the Conservative Republicans of Harris County, and $10K from Steven Hotze. I sure hope Democrats are paying attention in District IX, because this is Myrna Guidry’s first time on the ballot, and we sure don’t need someone like Gerry Monroe on the Board. He also reported a $50K in kind donation from Aubrey Taylor Communications for “political newspaper advertisements”, which is hilarious and ridiculous on multiple levels. Oh, and a $500 contribution from Hannah McNair.

So that’s the basic landscape at this time. I’ll do a post on the 30 day HCC reports, and will look at the 8 day reports when they come out. As always, let me know what you think.

What’s in a ballot name, 2021 edition

This is unfortunate.

Mac Walker

A candidate for the Houston ISD Board of Education said Friday his name has been printed incorrectly on ballots and county elections officials said it is too late to change the name.

Lee “Mac” Walker, running for the district 7 seat, said the issue came to his attention last weekend when a voter emailed to ask if he was on the ballot. The voter sent him a picture of the ballot, which showed his legal name, Lee Walker, instead of the nickname he has gone by and campaigned under, he said.

Walker’s notarized application shows he wrote he wanted his name to be displayed as Mac Walker on the ballot, according to district records. The application has a notary’s stamp on the bottom. A sample ballot shows his name appears as Lee Walker.

An HISD spokesperson said Friday evening the district was looking into questions from the Chronicle.

“I have gone by Mac since the day I was born,” Walker said. “I am just disappointed.”

[…]

Harris County Elections Administrator Isabel Longoria told Walker changing the language of the ballot would require a new logic and accuracy test for the entire election, according to an email sent to Walker that he shared with the Chronicle.

That test requires voting more than 15,500 ballots, five days and more than 60 staffers. Post-test requirements include multiple tasks that would be “impossible” to complete with the test before Wednesday, when equipment and materials will be delivered to early voting sites, Longoria wrote in the email.

“In short: at this point in our election preparations, making a correction in even one race would imperil our ability to start early voting for all the 44 entities on the ballot,” Longoria wrote. “After consultation with the Office of Texas Secretary of State, I’ve decided to move forward with our course of action to avoid derailing the entire Nov. 2nd election.”

Walker forwarded me the email correspondence he had with HISD and the Harris County Elections office regarding this snafu. The error is HISD’s, and at this point it appears to be too late to fix it. (Walker said in his email to Isabel Longoria that he “notified your office on Monday” and that he was disheartened to hear her say that “time is the real bottleneck in the matter when it took you four days to respond”.) I have not spoken to anyone at HISD or in the Elections office – I received this correspondence Friday night after I had gone to bed – so I have no further context to offer for any of this. I am in favor of people appearing on the ballot by their preferred name (within reason), and by any reasonable standard, “Mac Walker” is the name that should be on this ballot. It’s unfortunate that it likely will not happen in this race. Given that, the best I can do is to let you know the situation. Hope this helps.

The kids are all right

This is the best thing you’ll read today.

Patrick Kisindja spends his days combating vaccine hesitancy. Sometimes he calls people, other times he drives to their homes to explain the science behind the shot.

Then, in the afternoon, Kisindja drives teens to the Harris County Public Health vaccination clinic at Dick Graves Park.

The 21-year-old southwest Houston resident serves as an ambassador at the faith-based nonprofit reVision.

Founded in 2011 at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church, the organization provides mentors, case managers and community support for the city’s most disconnected youth, including refugees, those experiencing homelessness and members of the juvenile detention system.

Because of their circumstances, members of the reVision program are especially vulnerable to COVID-19. So for the past few months, the nonprofit has focused on helping them get their shots. Ambassadors like Kisindja are integral to reVision’s program, which uses peers to lead the vaccination effort for teens.

The people Kisindja spends his days informing about the coronavirus vaccine? The parents of students in the program.

Often, he visits them three or four times before they acquiesce. Many are refugees, and he often reminds them — sometimes in Swahili — that they were vaccinated against other diseases before settling in the U.S.

“It protects you,” Kisindja said. “You’re better with that. You don’t want to end up in the hospital.”

Kisindja uses every tool in his arsenal to persuade parents to sign consent forms for their children to get the shot.

“We’re doing it for the kids,” Kisindja continued. “And that’s what reVision is all about — helping kids and keeping them safe.”

There’s more, so read the rest. Patrick Kisindja has done more good for the people of Texas in the past few months than Ted Cruz would do in a dozen lifetimes. He and his friends are doing it one person at a time, though as you’ll see there were some events that greatly helped their cause. If you need numbers to be convinced:

[reVision CEO Charles Rotramel] hired four former reVision students, now in college, to serve in the program. Methodist provided their training — going in depth with how the vaccine works and also the different categories of vaccine hesitancy.

“In June, we really just turned them loose,” Rotramel said. “I didn’t know if it would work, but we felt like, let’s just go all in and see what we could do.”

Besides, he had no idea how else they would ever reopen reVision without everyone being vaccinated.

And, ultimately, Rotramel had faith.

“I had a firm belief and trust in young people that they would make the right decision,” he said.

[…]

The youth who showed up to reVision’s first clinic in July were rewarded with a full day of fun at Main Event.

Then, those kids shared their photos on social media, and everything changed.

“That broke the dam,” Rotramel said. “Then, we had a flood of kids who wanted to get vaccinated.”

Before long, the ambassadors shuttled youth to their shots almost every day. By the time school started, about 70 percent of reVision students were fully vaccinated.

“And that was our goal,” Rotramel said. “We had been so concerned about them going back to in-person school in an unvaccinated space.”

On Aug. 12, Rotramel was able to finally open the doors to the reVision community center. The only people invited inside were fully vaccinated.

“That turned another corner because everyone wanted to be in the space,” he said. “That was moving to us.”

The hallways were again full of chatter and laughter, from all age groups and in a variety of languages.

“It’s that joyful noise we really hadn’t heard,” Rotramel said.

Now, nearly 90 percent of reVision students are vaccinated.

Just fantastic. We could use a whole lot more of this. Thanks, y’all.

Still more driverless trucks

A familiar story by now.

Some trucks hauling FedEx deliveries from Dallas to Houston may soon be missing a key feature: drivers.

Autonomous vehicle company Aurora announced this month it has partnered with FedEx and truck-manufacturer PACCAR to begin testing driverless big rigs along the 250-mile stretch of I-45 between Texas’ two largest cities. While the trucks will make the trek with a safety driver up front until at least 2023, almost all of the roadway decision-making and driving will be left to Aurora’s software systems and location-sensing hardware.

Gerardo Interiano, VP of Government Relations and Public Affairs at Aurora, said Texas seemed like an obvious place to test their trucking service.

“Trucking is the backbone of our economy, and Texas moves more goods by truck than any other state,” he said. “The weather is favorable and it’s a welcoming state for new technologies, both of which are advantageous as we refine and deploy our technology and service with a trusted transportation company like FedEx.”

[…]

Aurora’s trucks will deal exclusively with “middle mile” applications, which usually involve shipping goods between large cities. They will not yet experiment with last-mile deliveries, which deliver products directly to stores and doorsteps, or cross-country trips. The trucks will pick up loads at a delivery facility on the outskirts of Dallas and drop them off at a FedEx facility north of Houston, avoiding the more congested and urban stretches of the freeway.

The new trucks will use a combination of cameras, radar and lidar, which uses reflected light and the Doppler effect to detect traffic conditions about 1,000 feet up the road.

The story notes some autonomous car rollouts in various Texas cities, but does not note that there have been announcements of driverless trucks in Texas before, with Otto supposed to be on I-45 and TuSimple on I-10. I have no idea if they are actually doing the things they claimed to be ready to do in 2019, but they did claim them, and now they have more company. Mashable and TechCrunch have more.

No vax needed to see a Rockets game

No, thanks.

The Rockets will not have any entry or seating restrictions beyond those required by NBA health and safety rules this season, according to Rockets president of business operations Gretchen Sheirr. The team does provide an option for fans to purchase seats in sections with social distancing provided in a variety of areas in Toyota Center.

The NBA requires that all those within 15 feet of the court be able to show proof that they are fully vaccinated or can provide a negative test for COVID.

The Dallas Mavericks last week announced that all fans be fully vaccinated or provide a negative test, joining Chicago Bulls and Oklahoma City Thunder, along with teams in New York (the Brooklyn Nets and New York Knicks) and in San Francisco (the Golden State Warriors) where local guidelines require it.

The Rockets’ policy for Toyota Center is in line with policies for Texans games at NRG Stadium and Astros games at Minute Maid Park.

But those are at least generally held outdoors, and even if the roof is closed on those stadia there’s still a lot more open space. The Rockets play in a much more enclosed space, and while they do have some limited “socially distanced” seating available, this sure seems like a recipe for transmission. It’s also quite different from last season, when face masks were required and attendance was capped at about 20% of capacity. I don’t begrudge them wanting to have fuller crowds – they gotta make money – but if the Mavericks can require proof of vaccination or a negative test in order to attend a game, I don’t see why the Rockets can’t. You can do better than that, y’all.

Interview with Greg Degeyter

Greg Degeyter

There are two challengers running in HISD District VI, and today I present to you an interview with one of them, Greg Degeyter. Degeyter is an attorney who specializes in helping people get disability benefits, after having been a meteorlogist and working for the Environmental Protection Service; he made a career change after suffering an injury in an automobile crash. He has three children with special needs, which he credits as the catalyst to get more involved in politics. Here’s our interview:

(The other candidate in District VI is perennial candidate Kendall Baker. I did not reach out to him.)

PREVIOUSLY:

Sue Deigaard, District V
Anne Sung, District VII
Elizabeth Santos, District I
Janette Garza Lindner, District I
Matias Kopinsky, District I
Bridget Wade, District VII
Maria Benzon, District V
Dwight Jefferson, District VII
Mac Walker, District VII
Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca, District VI
Myrna Guidry, District IX

Interview with Myrna Guidry

Myrna Guidry

There’s one incumbent on the HISD Board of Trustees that you may be less familiar with, and that’s District IX incumbent Myrna Guidry, who was appointed to the Board in December of 2020 to replace Wanda Adams, who had been elected Justice of the Peace that November. Guidry is an attorney focusing on family and probate law and the parent of a recent HISD graduate. She is also a mediator and continues to serve as an adjunct law professor of mediation at the Thurgood Marshall School of Law. Here’s our conversation:

(Note: I did not reach out to candidate Gerry Monroe.)

PREVIOUSLY:

Sue Deigaard, District V
Anne Sung, District VII
Elizabeth Santos, District I
Janette Garza Lindner, District I
Matias Kopinsky, District I
Bridget Wade, District VII
Maria Benzon, District V
Dwight Jefferson, District VII
Mac Walker, District VII
Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca, District VI

Interview with Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca

Holly Flynn Vilaseca

I will be finishing off interviews with HISD trustees this week, and then moving into the HCC races next week. We have two incumbents and one challenger to meet, and we begin with Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca, the incumbent in District VI. Appointed to fill out an unexpired term in January 2017, she was elected to a full term that November, and has served on the Audit and Special Education committees. A native of Ohio before moving to Houston and attending HISD schools, she is the daughter of Colombian immigrants and was a bilingual pre-k and early childhood teacher for six years, and is now Chief Relationship Officer at thinkLaw, an organization that uses real-life legal cases to teach critical-thinking skills. The interview I did with her in 2017 is here, and the interview I did with her for this election is below:

PREVIOUSLY:

Sue Deigaard, District V
Anne Sung, District VII
Elizabeth Santos, District I
Janette Garza Lindner, District I
Matias Kopinsky, District I
Bridget Wade, District VII
Maria Benzon, District V
Dwight Jefferson, District VII
Mac Walker, District VII

GLO still screwing Houston on Harvey aid

This shit has got to stop.

Harris County and the city of Houston this week blasted the Texas General Land Office’s revised plan for distributing billions in federal Hurricane Harvey aid, saying that while it is an improvement over the $0 the state originally awarded the local governments, it still is woefully inadequate.

Mayor Sylvester Turner and Steve Costello, Houston’s chief recovery officer, said in a letter Wednesday that GLO’s proposal to send $750 million to Harris County and still nothing to Houston ignores what Congress wanted when lawmakers approved the aid package for Texas in 2018 — to help communities devastated by Harvey.

“It is unconscionable that the State would expect that this amount in any way represents an amount that is sufficient to address the extensive mitigation needs in Houston and elsewhere in Harris County,” the pair wrote the land office.

The city and county want at least $1 billion each, which they say is fair since that sum would be roughly half of the $4.3 billion in federal aid that GLO manages and Harris County has about half of all the residents in the 49 counties eligible for the funds.

They suggested the state could abandon its proposal to send more aid to regional government entities, including the Houston-Galveston Area Council, to free up more money for Houston and Harris County.

[…]

The dispute with GLO has enormous consequences: Harris County is counting on federal aid to help complete projects in its $2.5 billion flood bond program and Houston desperately wants to improve urban drainage so neighborhoods no longer flood before stormwater can flow into bayous.

The GLO in May announced the results of a $1 billion funding competition for the disaster mitigation aid, which completely shut out the city and county governments, despite the fact that Harris County sustained the most fatalities and property damage from the 2017 storm.

Houston Chronicle investigation found the scoring criteria GLO used discriminated against populous areas and the state disproportionately steered aid to inland counties with a lower risk of disasters than coastal ones most vulnerable to hurricanes and flooding. Land Commissioner George P. Bush claimed falsely that federal rules were to blame for the result.

After criticism from Houston-area Democrats and Republicans alike, the GLO said it would revise its plan for spending more than $1 billion in additional federal aid it has yet to distribute. Instead of holding a second scoring competition as originally planned, GLO intends to award $750 million directly to Harris County, which it can share with Houston and other cities at its discretion.

An additional $667 million would be divided amount regional government entities, including the Houston-Galveston Area Council. The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development must approve the revised plan.

In a letter of its own to GLO on Wednesday, Harris County walked a fine line between thanking the state for offering the $750 million and making a case for why it remains insufficient.

Given its own need to fund flood bond projects, the county is disinclined to share its allocation with cities within its boundaries. Instead, County Administrator Dave Berry said county leaders support Houston’s request for a $1 billion allocation.

“The majority of the amount the State of Texas (federal) allocation — by far — was due to Hurricane Harvey and the documented damage suffered in Harris County and the city of Houston,” Berry wrote. “Congress clearly intended for this money to go to communities most impacted and distressed by Harvey.”

See here for my previous update, and Zach Despart’s Twitter thread for color commentary. This is the same tired bullshit from the GLO, with more insults. We’re going to need the feds to step in and apply the hammer, and then we’re seriously going to need to vote a lot of people out of office. There’s no other way forward at this point.

Interview with Mac Walker

Mac Walker

One more interview this week, still in District VII, with Mac Walker. Walker is a native Houstonian and graduate of Sharpstown High School as the first member of his family to reach that milestone. He went on to get an engineering degree from Duke and an MBA from UT, and is now the owner of a wellness business. He has mentored at-risk high school students at Wisdom High School (Lee) as part of an organization called Mentors of Hope, for which he served on the board, and he has served on the PTO of his kids’ schools, which I as a fellow PTA dad respect. Here’s what we talked about:

PREVIOUSLY:

Sue Deigaard, District V
Anne Sung, District VII
Elizabeth Santos, District I
Janette Garza Lindner, District I
Matias Kopinsky, District I
Bridget Wade, District VII
Maria Benzon, District V
Dwight Jefferson, District VII

Interview with Dwight Jefferson

Dwight Jefferson

Back again to District VII and a visit with Dwight Jefferson, whom we met in 2015 when he ran for Houston City Controller. Jefferson is a graduate of UT Law School after having been co-captain of the football team as an undergrad. He’s a former District Court judge and Metro trustee, he has served on the HISD H.E.A.R Committee and as Chair of the American Diabetes Association, Houston Chapter, and lobbied the Legislature on behalf of HISD during the 2019 session. We had a lot to talk about.

PREVIOUSLY:

Sue Deigaard, District V
Anne Sung, District VII
Elizabeth Santos, District I
Janette Garza Lindner, District I
Matias Kopinsky, District I
Bridget Wade, District VII
Maria Benzon, District V

Interview with Maria Benzon

Maria Benzon

We move over to District V today for a conversation with Dr. Maria Benzon. Benzon is a graduate of Booker T. Washington High School who got bachelors and masters degrees at UT and a PhD in Educational Psychology at UH. She has been a math teacher and department chair in HISD and an assistant principal at the Southwest Schools, and has been an education researcher and teacher to teachers at UH and elsewhere. Our interview is below.

(Note: There’s a third candidate in this race, Caroline Walter, who has no online presence that I could see and is an anti-masker, as this report from a recent candidate forum makes clear. I did not try to find her for an interview.)

PREVIOUSLY:

Sue Deigaard, District V
Anne Sung, District VII
Elizabeth Santos, District I
Janette Garza Lindner, District I
Matias Kopinsky, District I
Bridget Wade, District VII

I regret to inform you that Dave Wilson will be back on the HCC Board of Trustees

From Campos:

Commentary was scrolling through the November 2 ballot for races in Harris County. I got to the HCC Trustee races and bam, I saw a Dave Wilson running in District 6. Running unopposed. The district is on the westside. Surely it had to be another Dave Wilson.

I texted my friend, HCC Trustee Adrianna Tamez and she confirmed it was the same Dave Wilson. How does this happen?

Adrianna also said there was a write-in candidate also in that race. It really doesn’t matter.

How does this happen?

You can see the candidates list here. None of the non-incumbents had filed a finance report for July, so they were below the radar. District 6 is currently held by John Hansen, who did not file for re-election. The write-in candidate is Jim Noteware, last seen as the losing plaintiff in a lawsuit over ballot language for the 2017 pension bond referendum. As I understand it, he didn’t fill out his candidate application correctly, and apparently there wasn’t time for him to fix it. You’ve heard me rant about that before, so just assume I did it again.

Noteware did manage to file for status as a write-in candidate, which just simply means that any write-in votes cast for him will be officially counted, as opposed to a write-in vote for “Mickey Mouse” or “Shelley Sekula-Gibbs”. The odds that he can win as a write-in, even against a sack of pestilence like Dave Wilson, are not good. Yes, I know, incumbent Trustee Eva Loredo won as a write-in back in 2009. The difference is that there were no other candidates in the race, so all she needed was literally one vote. (She got 532 votes, including one from me, out of nearly 11K ballots cast in the district.) Wilson will get a bunch of votes for being the only listed candidate. It’s possible that Noteware could beat him, but it would take a massive campaign to inform voters of why not to vote for Wilson as well as why and how to vote for Noteware. That ain’t happening, and so we will be stuck with the repulsive menace that is Dave Wilson for another six years. I’m sorry to have to ruin your Monday like this, but here we are.

PS – Yes, I know, this is a different district than the one Wilson won back in 2013. It’s also different than the one he ran for in 2019, having resigned from the office he held so he could establish residency in the other district. Our residency laws are meaningless, and Wilson doesn’t represent anyone but himself, so what does it matter what district he runs for? One warehouse is as good as the next. It’s all the same to him.

Interview with Bridget Wade

Bridget Wade

I ran interviews two weeks ago with incumbent HISD trustees Sue Deigaard and Anne Sung. This week I will be running interviews with three of the candidates who are running against them – my schedule for publishing interviews is necessarily dependent on my ability to get them scheduled. Today we visit the District VII race with Bridget Wade, who came onto my radar in a big way back in July when I noticed her monster fundraising haul. Wade is a native Houstonian and graduate of Briargrove Elementary and Paul Revere Middle Schools. She is a past President of the Briargrove PTO and Episcopal High School trustee, and has served on numerous other boards and committees. Here’s our interview:

PREVIOUSLY:

Sue Deigaard, District V
Anne Sung, District VII
Elizabeth Santos, District I
Janette Garza Lindner, District I
Matias Kopinsky, District I

The Housing and Community Development mess

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

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

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

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

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

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