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interviews

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interview with Matias Kopinsky

Matias Kopinsky

We wrap up our tour of HISD District I this week with Matias Kopinsky. Kopinsky is the son of Argentine immigrants who grew up speaking Spanish. He attended Herod Elementary, Meyerland Performing and Visual Arts Middle School, and Bellaire High School, and got a BS in petroleum engineering from UT. The HISD Board as currently constituted is all female, so if elected he would change that. That wasn’t one of the things we talked about, I just thought about it while writing this intro. Here’s what we did talk about:

PREVIOUSLY:

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

Interview with Janette Garza Lindner

Janette Garza Lindner

We continue with HISD District I, and today’s candidate is Janette Garza Lindner. A native of Brownsville, Garza Lindner has lived in Houston for 20 years. She is a UT graduate with a degree in Management Information Systems, and has served as a Latinos for Education board fellow and as the main community representative on the Arts Connect Houston leadership committee. I discovered her candidacy when doing my post on the July HISD finance reports; she was filed as a candidate but had not done any fundraising then. Here’s what we talked about:

PREVIOUSLY:

Sue Deigaard, District V
Anne Sung, District VII
Elizabeth Santos, District I

Interview with Elizabeth Santos

Elizabeth Santos

This week we will meet the three candidates in HISD District I, which happens to be my district. Elizabeth Santos is the incumbent, having been elected in 2017 after Anna Eastman decided to not run again. Santos is a lifelong resident in the district, and spent ten years teaching in HISD, at Sam Houston and Northside, while getting a BA in English Literature from UH-Downtown. You can listen to the interview I did with her in 2017 here – it was one of the first I did following Hurricane Harvey, which as you can imagine had an effect on the questions I was asking. A lot has happened since then, and you can hear about some of those things in this interview:

PREVIOUSLY:

Sue Deigaard, District V
Anne Sung, District VII

Interview with Anne Sung

Anne Sung

We continue with HISD candidate interviews, moving over to District VII for a visit with incumbent Anne Sung. I almost wrote “first-term incumbent”, but Sung won a special election in 2016 to succeed Harvin Moore, and was then re-elected for a full term in 2017, so technically she’s in her second term and that makes her the longest-serving incumbent on the Board. Sung is a graduate of HISD schools and Harvard University, and taught for several years at HISD and in the Rio Grande Valley via Teach for America. She serves on the boards of the SPARK Park Program, the Texas Association of School Boards, and OCA-Greater Houston, and is a former Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer for Project GRAD Houston. The interview I did with her in 2016 is here, and the interview I did with her this year is here:

PREVIOUSLY:

Sue Deigaard, District V

Interview with Sue Deigaard

Sue Deigaard

Hey, remember how there are elections this fall? It’s true! Not for the city of Houston, but for HISD and HCC, and you know what that means – candidate interviews. As you may imagine, there are a few topics of interest this year. We begin our quest with District V incumbent Trustee Sue Deigaard, elected in 2017 to succeed Mike Lunceford. Deigaard is a longtime education advocate, having served as as a parent representative on HISD’s District Advisory Committee, a board member on the Houston Center for Literacy, and a founding board member of the Braeswood Super Neighborhood Council prior to her election. She served as Board president in 2020, and is a graduate of Rice University, where she was the first member of her family to attend college. My interview with her from 2017 is here; as noted, I knew her at Rice as we were both members of the MOB. Here’s the interview:

I expect to have interviews with HISD candidates over the next four weeks, then HCC interviews after that. As always, please let me know what you think.

Interview with Odus Evbagharu

Odus Evbagharu

As you know, the Harris County Democratic Party will be electing a new Chair following the resignation of Lillie Schecter, who has served (quite ably) as Chair since 2017. I am on the record supporting Odus Evbagharu as the next Chair, and to that end I am bringing you this interview I did with him, to discuss his view of the HCDP and where he plans to take it from here. Odus is a native of London and the son of Nigerian immigrants, who has lived in the Cypress area since he was ten. He’s a graduate of UH, he has served as Communications Director for the HCDP on the 2018 Coordinated Campaign, and he is currently the Chief of Staff to State Rep. Jon Rosenthal. Here’s what we talked about:

The CEC meeting at which the next Chair will be elected is June 27. The only other known candidate at this time is Ted Weisgal; there was a third person who had initially expressed interest but he has since withdrawn from consideration. Candidates must be nominated by a precinct chair to be in the race, so the possibility exists that one or more new entrants will appear on that date.

Interview with Isabel Longoria

Isabel Longoria

Following on to my interview with Chris Hollins, today I have for you a conversation with our brand new and first-ever Election Administrator in Harris County, Isabel Longoria. Longoria is a former legislative staffer who ran for City Council in District H in 2019 and lost in a runoff to incumbent CM Karla Cisneros. She was hired by Hollins to be part of the County Clerk’s election staff for the 2020 election, so when she stepped into the Administrator role it was mostly a continuation of what she had already been doing. If you’ve ever talked with Longoria before, you know she’s a highly detail-oriented person who can go deep into the weeds on policy and technical issues, and she has an abiding love for the elections process. We talked about all that and more:

We enter now into a fallow period for local elections – it’s an off year for Houston, and who knows what will happen with the HISD Trustees. I’ll do what I do with the races that are on the docket, but in the meantime if you think there’s someone I really ought to talk to and whose insights would be of interest to you and my other readers, let me know.

Interview with Chris Hollins

Chris Hollins

To put a bow on this long, strange trip that was the 2020 election season, I have a couple of interviews to bring you with key players from the election. The first is with Chris Hollins, the now-former Harris County Clerk who stepped into that role in June, just before the primary runoffs were to take place and as the second COVID wave was beginning. Hollins had the task of putting new processes in place to make that runoff election safe and successful, then scaling it all up for November, when about ten times as many people would be participating. We know how well that turned out, and how much acclaim Hollins got for his team’s achievements and his leadership, so let’s just go right to the interview, in which we go into greater detail about what happened and what we learned from this crazy election.

Next up: An interview with Isabel Longoria, the first-ever Harris County Election Administrator. Let me know what you think.

Early voting starts today for District B runoff

At long last, the voters in District B will get to elect a new City Council member.

Here’s the Chron story.

Cynthia Bailey

Tarsha Jackson, a consultant and criminal justice organizer, and Cynthia Bailey, a neighborhood advocate, both aim to bring fresh, grassroots energy to the district. Jackson won 20.9 percent of the vote in the 14-candidate general election last November. Bailey came in second with 14.5 percent.

[…]

District B has been represented by Jerry Davis, who faced a term limit last year, for nine years. It has the second-highest concentration of Black residents in the city (47 percent), stretching from historic neighborhoods such as Kashmere Gardens and Greater Fifth Ward to Acres Homes and Greenspoint.

Early voting begins Wednesday, pauses for Thanksgiving and resumes Nov. 30 through Dec. 8.

Jackson has the institutional and financial edge. The progressive organization she used to work for, the Texas Organizing Project, is supporting her bid. Jackson has $21,000 in campaign cash to Bailey’s $3,000, according to the most recent campaign finance filings.

Bailey, though, proved a gritty campaigner last year, surprising other candidates in the field by reaching the runoff. She is known to some as the “Mayor of Settegast.”

Tarsha Jackson

Jackson, 49, was thrust into activism and organizing after her son was arrested for kicking a teacher in elementary school.

She helped advocate for reform legislation in 2007 that ensured young people would not be sent to state jail for misdemeanors. Jackson ultimately became Harris County criminal justice director for TOP, which aims to mobilize Black and Latino communities across the state.

As an organizer, she has been involved in Harris County’s historic bail settlement, has called on the city to end what she calls a “debtors’ prison” system that can jail people for failing to pay fines, and this summer led a report of recommendations for police reform.

Jackson hopes to bring that activist spirit to City Hall on council.

She said the defining issue for District B is poverty. District B has the poorest median household income ($33,257) in the city. Nearly 40 percent of the district’s roughly 193,000 residents live in a household that brings in less than $25,000 per year.

“I’ve watched my communities be left behind in all areas. Infrastructure, jobs, the schools that I went to,” Jackson said. “Once we start addressing income disparities, getting people to work, that’s going to start fixing some of the issues.”

For that reason, Jackson said a top priority would be job training. She plans to push for stronger community benefit agreements when the city gives tax incentives to developers. Those deals can include provisions about hiring local workers, including affordable housing and funding for community programs.

“Let’s make sure we’re benefiting from the dollars we’re putting out,” Jackson said.

Another priority would be flooding and illegal dumping. Jackson said she would push for more regular maintenance and cleanings for drainage ditches and bayous, and seek to broaden access to dump sites, which she said require a driver’s license and matching electricity bill. Many renters lack those documents, which contributes to dumping, she said.

I did an interview with Cynthia Bailey in November of 2019, which was intended for that year’s December runoff. That was before all the craziness about her eligibility to be on the ballot and the long drawn-out legal process that finally wrapped up a couple of months ago. I don’t know how relevant this is now, given how much has changed since we spoke, but here it is:

I did make contact at the time with Tarsha Jackson for an interview as well, but by the time we connected the runoff had already been pushed back, and we agreed to try again later once the legal maneuvering had ended. That didn’t happen, as I did not get back to her, so this is the best I can do.

The PDF map of early voting locations is here, along with the times they will be open. Note that there are also runoffs for the cities of Baytown, Humble, La Porte, and Nassau Bay, and there is at least one EV location in each of those places. There are also three drive-through EV locations, two in District B and one in Baytown. Get out there and vote while you can.

Interview with Rep. Lizzie Fletcher

Rep. Lizzie Fletcher

I knew I wanted to talk to freshman Rep. Lizzie Fletcher this cycle, because there’s just so much to talk about. You know her story from 2018 – the crowded primary, the unprecedented amounts of money raised and spent, the eventual victory in a district that had been held by Republicans for over 50 years – but none of us could have known what the first two years in Congress would entail. Rep. Fletcher serves on the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, and has passed multiple bills out of the House. This is my last interview for the fall, and as you may imagine, we had a lot to talk about.

PREVIOUSLY:

Hank Gilbert, CD01
Rashad Lewis, CD36
Julie Oliver, CD25
Elizabeth Hernandez, CD08
Sima Ladjevardian, CD02
Rep. Christina Morales, HD145

Interview with Rep. Christina Morales

Rep. Christina Morales

I have focused mostly on Congressional candidates in my limited series of November interviews, but I did several State House races for the primary – Akilah Bacy in HD138, Ann Johnson in HD134, Sarah DeMerchant in HD26 – and I realized that one important person that I had not yet interviewed was my own State Rep, Christina Morales. She was elected in a special election in HD145 after now-Sen. Carol Alvarado got a promotion to the upper chamber (an opening made possible by Rep. Sylvia Garcia’s election to Congress), and is now running for her first full term. She grew up in the East End neighborhood she now represents, and is the President an CEO of the Morales Funeral Home, a small business founded by her grandparents in 1931. I confess that I had not thought about this going into the interview, but that’s a revealing window into the effect of COVID-19 on many people, especially in the Latino community. That comes up a few times in our conversation, which you can listen to here:

PREVIOUSLY:

Hank Gilbert, CD01
Rashad Lewis, CD36
Julie Oliver, CD25
Elizabeth Hernandez, CD08
Sima Ladjevardian, CD02

Interview with Sima Ladjevardian

Sima Ladjevardian

Texas CD02 has a fairly short history of being centered in Harris County. It was redrawn in the Tom DeLay re-redistricting of 2003 to stretch from the north end of the county to Beaumont in order to oust then-Rep. Nick Lampson, and in 2011 it became an all-Harris district, where its spiral design running from Kingwood to Tomball to the Energy Corridor and finally inside the Loop is often cited as an exemplar of gerrymandering. It was not intended to be a competitive district, but Todd Litton came within seven points in 2018. Sima Ladjevardian is the candidate seeking to close that gap this year. A lawyer and political activist who fled Iran with her family to escape that country’s revolution, she was a Senior Advisor and Finance Chair to Beto O’Rourke in 2018. She is also a breast cancer survivor, which gives her a deeply personal stake in the health care debate. Here’s the interview:

PREVIOUSLY:

Hank Gilbert, CD01
Rashad Lewis, CD36
Julie Oliver, CD25
Elizabeth Hernandez, CD08

Interview with Elizabeth Hernandez

Elizabeth Hernandez

How I proceed with doing candidate interviews can vary from election to election. The last couple of even-year cycles, I’ve focused more on the primaries than the general, because there have been so many highly competitive primaries. Even there, I can’t get to everything, and as I mentioned after the primaries I do try to get back to the candidates I couldn’t cover for March. There was a competitive primary in CD08, the Congressional district that is centered in Montgomery County but which also includes a piece of Harris and a number of rural counties. Elizabeth Hernandez emerged victorious from that primary, and has been someone I’ve wanted to talk to since. An accountant by trade, she graduated high school in Pasadena and now lives in the Woodlands, where she’s doing her part to turn Montgomery a bit more purple, if not blue. Here’s what we talked about:

PREVIOUSLY:

Hank Gilbert, CD01
Rashad Lewis, CD36
Julie Oliver, CD25

Interview with Julie Oliver

Julie Oliver

If the story of the 2018 Congressional elections in Texas was the unprecedented number of serious candidates and their equally unprecedented success at fundraising, the story of 2020 is how many of those Congressional races are seen as credibly winnable by the Democratic challenger. Democratic flips of “only” two seats would be seen as mildly disappointing, while up to ten seats could go blue in a maximal year, based on the polling data available and the interest by national groups and the DCCC. Julie Oliver has been at the forefront of both stories, as the energetic newcomer in 2018 and as the more seasoned candidate with the poll numbers that show how much her CD25 has changed in that time. Oliver is a healthcare professional who has lived the themes of her campaign, as a onetime dropout and teen mother who relied on Medicaid and Pell grants to get her through school and onto a successful career, and who has a son who was born with a pre-existing heart condition. Here’s our conversation:

PREVIOUSLY:

Hank Gilbert, CD01
Rashad Lewis, CD36

Interview with Rashad Lewis

Rashad Lewis

Moving closer to my home base but staying in mostly rural territory, we visit CD36 where Rashad Lewis is running on the Democratic ticket. Lewis is a former city council member in Jasper, where he won as a write-in candidate in 2017 – this Beaumont Enterprise story recounts that tale and provides some background on Lewis. He recently helped organize the Black Lives Matter protest in Jasper following the death of George Floyd. CD36 is a challenging district where Dayna Steele gave a strong effort in 2018, and now Rashad Lewis will try to build on that. Here’s the interview:

PREVIOUSLY: Hank Gilbert, CD01

Interview with Hank Gilbert

Hank Gilbert

I will have a few interviews to present for the November election. Nearly all of the people I wanted to talk to in the greater Houston area were in contested primaries, and thus I have already interviewed them, but there are several more I’ll be trying to get. Beyond that, I’m reaching out to various Congressional candidates, and will hope to have as many of those as I can. We’ll start today with an old friend, Hank Gilbert, whom I interviewed before in 2006 and 2010 when he ran for Ag Commissioner. Hank is a rancher and high school agriculture teacher who grew up near Tyler, and he’s trying to do the world a favor by sending Louie Gohmert off to retirement in CD01. It’s a tough challenge in a red district, but if anyone is up to it, it’s Hank. If you’d like to close your eyes and imagine what it would be like to have a normal, rational, compassionate human being representing this Congressional district, go ahead and give this interview a listen:

I will be presenting further interviews as I can. Please let me know what you think.

Interview with Sherrie Matula of Sisters United Alliance

Sherrie Matula is a longtime Democratic activist (she was a founder of the BAAD Women club) and two-time candidate (for HD129 in 2008, and for HCDE in Precinct 2 in 2016, which she lost by 0.2 percentage points), but that’s not the reason I’m interviewing her. I’m interviewing her because she’s the founder and President of Sisters United Alliance, a small data-driven effort to turn out Democratic-aligned women voters in Texas. Beginning in 2016 and focusing in that election on Harris County, SUA identified 89,000 low-propensity women who were already registered to vote and contacted them by mail and by phone to encourage them to vote for Democratic candidates. Forty-three percent, or 39K of those 89K women they targeted, did cast a vote. They followed that up in 2018 with a larger focus that included Fort Bend, Galveston, Brazoria, and Montgomery Counties plus four small counties between Houston and Austin, and had similar results.

Sisters United has expanded their reach again for 2020, and it’s an effort that deserves more attention. SUA is aiming at precisely the kind of voters that campaigns tend to overlook, and they have been successful at getting them to vote. You can see their numbers from 2018 here and their 2020 universe here, and you can visit their website to learn more here. We all know what’s at stake in this election. Sisters United is doing the kind of work that’s needed to make victory possible. Give a listen to hear what they’re about:

If you like what you hear and want to help, go here to donate to Sisters United Alliance.

Interview with Teneshia Hudspeth

Teneshia Hudspeth

As you know, HCDP precinct chairs will be picking a nominee for Harris County Clerk, to run for Diane Trautman’s unexpired term. The leading candidate for this is Teneshia Hudspeth, who has worked in the Clerk’s office for fifteen years and has been a top lieutenant in the elections division. I’ve interacted with Teneshia multiple times over the years, and I plan to vote for her in my role as precinct chair. With the selection process coming up on August 15, I wanted to take the opportunity to interview her, so my fellow precinct chairs and everyone who’ll get to vote for her in November can get to know her a little better. The job of County Clerk will be different when she takes office thanks to the adoption of an elections administrator by Commissioners Court, and that made this interview a little weird for both of us, since my questions to Clerk candidates have usually been about election matters, and right now we don’t know exactly what that will mean going forward. But we persevered, and you can hear the result here:

You can review the Q&As I did with the HCDE candidates as well:

Jose Rivera
David Brown
Obes Nwabara

Interview with Commissioner Rodney Ellis

Commissioner Rodney Ellis

Normally, I do candidate interviews for elections, though I do branch out sometimes when there’s an issue or some election-adjacent matter I want to explore. It’s in that spirit that I bring you this conversation I had with Commissioner Rodney Ellis about Commissioners Court’s decision to hire an elections administrator, which was a move that caught some people by surprise and generated a fair amount of opposition, both from Harris County Tax Assessor Ann Harris Bennett and former Harris County Clerk Diane Trautman. The job of elections administrator would replace some current functions handled by those offices, which likely explains some of the dissent. It’s a big change for Harris County, but it’s a change to something that nearly every other big county in Texas already does, as do many large counties around the country. I had the chance to ask Commissioner Ellis a few questions about what this means, why we’re doing it, and what we should expect. Hopefully, this will help answer some of the questions you may have had as well. As Commissioner Ellis notes, this will be on the agenda for the next Court meeting on Tuesday, and you can make your voice heard to them by all the traditional means as well. Here’s what we talked about:

What do you think? Leave a comment and let me know.

Interview with Rep. Marc Veasey

Rep. Marc Veasey

When I came up with the idea to do a series of interviews about redistricting, Rep. Marc Veasey was among the first people I wanted to talk to. He was a State Rep in 2011 when the original maps were passed, and then he got elected as the first member of Congress in CD33, one of the new districts created in that 2011 session. He was one of the litigants in the consolidated case that made it to the Supreme Court (he was also one of the main litigants in the voter ID lawsuit; the 2010s were a busy decade for Rep. Veasey), and I wanted to get the insight from someone who was in this fight from the beginning. As a member of the now-Democratic majority US House, he’s also got a role to play in making the landscape better in the 2020’s, with legislation to make redistricting fairer that will also generally expand voting rights. Here’s what we talked about:

Here’s my interview with redistricting expert Michael Li if you haven’t listened to it yet. I hope to have more of these in the coming weeks.

Interview with Michael Li

Michael Li

As we know, among the many monumental tasks that the Legislature has before it in 2021 is redistricting. That will almost certainly be done in a summer or even autumn special session, since Census data will be delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, but it will happen next year, with all the usual pomp and partisan fighting that accompanies it. And as we also know from living in Texas, litigation and redistricting go together like chips and salsa. This past decade was particularly eventful for redistricting and the courts, and I wanted to have a chance to review where we are now before we embark on the next round. The best person I could think of to have this conversation with is Michael Li, Senior Counsel for the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program, where his work focuses on redistricting, voting rights, and elections. I was of course a dedicated reader of his Texas Redistricting blog, and I follow him now on Twitter, and I was delighted to have the opportunity to ask him all my questions about the state of redistricting litigation:

I have a number of interviews in mind on this topic that I would like to do. I’m working on making that happen, but have no set schedule for any of it at this time. Please let me know what you think.