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John Whitmire

EPA to investigate TCEQ over concrete plant permits

Well, this ought to be interesting.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality is the subject of an investigation by the Environmental Protection Agency following complaints that the state agency violated civil rights laws in its permitting of concrete batch plants.

The Harris County Attorney and Lone Star Legal Aid, a nonprofit law group, alleged that the state environmental agency discriminated against racial and ethnic minorities and those with limited English proficiency through a revised permitting process to build new concrete batch plants.

Their complaints, filed with the EPA earlier this year, said TCEQ failed to provide information in Spanish and insufficiently protected communities of color who live in areas where concrete facilities are predominantly located.

The concrete plants are subject to permits that aim to limit pollution in the form of particulate matter and crystalline silica — which have been linked to respiratory diseases and cancer — but independent testing of concrete facilities by the complaint’s authors indicate that pollution levels exceed health-based limits.

Last year, TCEQ approved an amendment that included exemptions for emission limitations for concrete batch plants, in response to an application to construct a plant by a Fort Worth concrete company. Area residents had fought the company’s application, which was rejected on the grounds that it didn’t adequately study the impacts of pollutants. TCEQ later passed the amendment and approved the company’s application after what it called a “clerical error.”

The EPA’s civil rights compliance arm announced the investigation last Wednesday. The investigation will focus on whether the adoption of the amendment — and the permitting process — is discriminatory, and whether the state agency failed to seek meaningful public comment.

The Chron adds some more details.

County Attorney Christian Menefee and Lone Star lawyers alleged in separate complaints to the EPA earlier this year that the state agency discriminated against Black and Latino residents when they didn’t adequately ensure communities would be protected and didn’t appropriately seek input from people who aren’t fluent in English.

Local, state and federal leaders celebrated the EPA’s decision to look at the discrimination claims Tuesday. They saw it as a chance to win long-sought relief for people who have suffered from batch plants. Facility operators say the plants are safe and need to be close to construction sites. People near them, concerned for their health, plead for them to go far away.

“Time and again, the TCEQ has approved permits for additional plants in these very same neighborhoods, and failed to ensure that the pollution that comes out of these plants does not harm human health and the environment,” Menefee said. “We’re here today because the TCEQ failed to address these issues when it had the chance.”

[…]

Applications are frequently submitted to start up concrete batch plants in the Houston area. They elicit strong backlash from residents who often already know what it’s like to live by one. Residents in Aldine recently packed a room to tell TCEQ not to approve another new plant — only to find out that the deadline had already passed to ask the state agency to escalate the dispute to the next level.

EPA stepping in signaled a shift in that fight for residents who have little more than emotional appeals on their side, and what help they can get from frustrated government representatives.

“This is important to us,” said Huey German-Wilson, president of the Trinity and Houston Gardens Super Neighborhood, “and now we have someone to hear us loud and clear, for the small Black and brown voices in communities that have not been heard.”

Politicians at the news conference slammed the state environmental agency for valuing the needs of industry over the health of people. They said that it took President Joe Biden — a fellow Democrat — winning the White House for federal regulators to put pressure on this issue in the conservative Lone Star State. Recent bills proposed in the state legislature largely floundered.

Neighborhoods with batch plants lack deed restrictions and zoning to protect them, U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee said. And facilities are often in communities of color — not wealthy, white River Oaks — making what has been happening clear environmental racism, state Sen. Borris Miles said.

Menefee’s office asked the EPA to stop any new standard concrete batch plant permits from being issued until the investigation is finished, he said. A public meeting has been scheduled later this month for residents to weigh in on a plant that’s been proposed in Simonton, a small city west of Houston in rural Fort Bend County.

This isn’t a lawsuit, it’s an investigation. I have no context to guess how long it may take, though I’d expect that if the state doesn’t like what the EPA says we’ll get a lawsuit afterwards. Until then, we wait. Here’s a Twitter thread from Chron reporter Emily Foxhall with more quotes.

On resign to run

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 2022 campaign finance reports: City of Houston

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


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

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

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

Brown            500      4,849   75,000      34,861

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

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

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

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

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

Hollins and Edwards report big Mayoral fundraising numbers

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

Chris Hollins

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amanda Edwards

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

We’re still not going to get a special session for gun safety legislation

But I still appreciate the effort. Someone has to do it.

With Texas schools restarting classes in less than two months, Texas Senate Democrats renewed calls Monday for Gov. Greg Abbott to bring lawmakers back to Austin this summer to enact legislation that might prevent another mass shooting like the one at a Uvalde elementary school that killed 19 students and two teachers last month.

The senators said if lawmakers reconvene for a special session, they would support proposals like raising the age to legally own an assault weapon from 18 to 21, creating red flag laws for gun purchases, instituting a 72-hour “cooling off” period and regulating the private sale of firearms.

But first there has to be a debate, and a vote, to let Texans know where their elected officials stand on how to respond to the Uvalde shooting, said state Sen. John Whitmire, a Houston Democrat who chairs the Senate Criminal Justice Committee and was unsuccessful in passing his red flag legislation last session.

“The people are urging us to take action, but first we have to let them know we’re listening to them,” he said. “We’ve heard the public, we want to represent them, but we have to have a session to do that.”

The Senators have been calling for a special session for many weeks following the Uvalde massacre. They are now joined by multiple Mayors.

San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg is part of a bipartisan group of 13 Texas mayors who sent a letter demanding Texas Gov. Greg Abbott call a special legislative session to address gun violence in the wake of the Uvalde school shooting.

Abbott, a Republican up for reelection in the fall, has asked state lawmakers to organize committees to look into school safety following the massacre, which killed 19 students and two teachers. However, he’s balked at calling a special session and has avoided discussion of new firearms laws — something that would anger the powerful gun lobby.

The letter calls on Abbott to enact reforms the mayors say are backed by the majority of Texans and could prevent future mass shootings.

“We represent a continuum of political ideology and have come together because we know most Texans have a strong desire for common sense reform to protect our children,” they said. “As mayors, we believe the legislature and executive leaders can come together to find the right solutions for Texas.”

The letter also asks Abbott to place the following reforms on the legislative agenda.

  • Requiring universal background checks for gun purchases.
  • Increasing the age to purchase assault weapons in Texas to 21.
  • Passing “red flag” laws to identify threats before shootings.
  • Boosting mental health support funding.
  • Training and properly equipping school safety officers.

Texas isn’t among the 19 U.S. states to enact “red flag” laws, which prevent people at risk of harming themselves or others from purchasing firearms.

In addition to Nirenberg, the letter is signed by Austin Mayor Steve Adler, Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson and Fort Worth Mayor Mattie Parker, among others.

As always, I appreciate the effort. And also as always, I fully expect Greg Abbott to cover his ears and start singing “Baby Shark” or whatever it is he does to self-soothe these days, because it ain’t gonna happen. You probably didn’t pay much attention to the fascistic shitshow known as the Texas Republican Convention from last week, but Greg Abbott did. That’s who he’s listening to (and deathly afraid of), not a bunch of Democrats and mayors. The Chron and the Dallas Observer have more.

Amanda Edwards to run for Mayor

The field is now at three.

Amanda Edwards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More on the 11th Street project

The Chron editorial board mostly approves of the city’s plans for 11th Street in the Heights.

Ever since Mayor Sylvester Turner unveiled his Vision Zero Action Plan — an ambitious program to end traffic fatalities by 2030 — the city has focused on priortizing pedestrians and bike lanes in the urban planning process.

The 11th Street redesign reflects these shifting values. We applaud Mayor Turner for pledging to move forward with this project, which will make the corridor safer and more accessible. Judging from all the new development along the nearby MKT trail, the project may boost local businesses. The hope is that in the long run, the city’s incremental approach to street redesign, while frustratingly slow to some advocates, will pay off as more of these projects move through the pipeline. The consequences of not proceeding with this redesign, and thus conceding to the car-centric philosophy that has dominated Houston’s urban planning for decades, will be devastating for the city’s long-term ambition of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050.

[…]

Local residents have voiced concerns that the changes to 11th Street could send traffic circling onto nearby streets. We share this concern, though slower speed limits and stop signs on those residential streets should mitigate traffic hazards somewhat. [David Fields, chief transportation planner for Houston,] is also bullish on a pilot program the city launched in Eastwood called Slow Streets, which has shown to have some effect on discouraging motorists from driving on local streets. At key intersections in this neighborhood, the city installed simple, movable barriers encouraging through-traffic to take alternate routes. Vehicles traveling to homes and businesses may continue to access these streets, along with all emergency vehicles, and no parking spaces were removed. Fields is pushing to expand the program citywide.

In the big picture, the 11th Street project does more than just fill a gap in the larger bike network; it will mean more people walking and biking around town, frequenting businesses whose clientele would otherwise be limited to the number of available parking spaces. The goal of street design should be to create a community, not just a throughput ferrying motorists from one destination to the next.

See here for some background, and another CityCast Houston podcast for further discussion. I don’t have a good feel for how strong or organized the opposition to this plan is. The comments left on the project information webpage are slightly more pro than con, not that that’s conclusive. I get a bit of a Richmond Rail vibe in that the most vocal opposition appears to be coming from some businesses on 11th and some homeowners near 11th who are worried about traffic diverting to their streets, but the rest of the area is in favor. I could be wrong about that, it’s just something I’ve been thinking about.

The big difference here is that unlike the Richmond battleground of yore, there’s no politician representing the area that I know of that has come out against the city’s plan. I don’t know what CM Karla Cisneros, State Reps. Penny Shaw and Christina Morales, or Sen. John Whitmire think about this, but I do know they’re not making like John Culberson back in the day. That makes a difference, both in that there’s no one in power that Mayor Turner or his representative on the project would need to respond to, and also because it suggests that there isn’t enough of a constituency in opposition for an elected official to have to heed. This could change – for sure, people in my neighborhood know how to make themselves heard – but until and unless I see such a thing, I’m going to consider this a strong favorite to move forward. Which it seems likely to do beginning in the summer.

January 2022 campaign finance reports: City of Houston

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2022 primary results: Legislative races

You might start with the Daily Kos rundown of races of interest, which includes all of the Congressional races worth watching.

One of those got an early resolution, as former Austin City Council member Greg Casar declared victory before 9 PM. He had a ridiculous early lead, and was at just under 60% when I wrote this. He was one of the candidates backed by national progressives, and they may go two for two, as Jessica Cisneros was just over 50%, up by about five points in her three-way race with Rep. Henry Cuellar. This one may go to a runoff, and it’s one we’ll all be sick of by the end of March if that happens. Whatever the case, she built on her 2020 campaign, likely with a bit of an assist from the FBI, and if she wins she earned it.

Other open Congressional seat races: Rep. Lloyd Doggett waltzed to an easy and crushing win in CD37. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, who moved from CD15 to CD34 to succeed Rep. Filemon Vela, was headed to victory there. In CD15, Ruben Ramirez led a more tightly packed field; it’s not clear who might accompany him to a runoff. State Rep. Jasmine Crockett was at around 55% in CD30 early on, and could win without a runoff. I generally like her, but stories like this one about a cryptocurrency super PAC supporting her really makes me scratch my head.

In the two seats that are currently targets for the DCCC, John Lira was in a fairly solid lead in CD23, while it appears that sigh Jan McDowell will be in a runoff in CD24. Derrik Gay, the best fundraiser and the candidate the DCCC has been backing, was in a tight race for second place. Lord help me. Claudia Zapata was in first place and headed for the runoff in CD21, Sandeep Srivastava was winning in CD03, and here in Harris County Duncan Klussman and Diana Martinez Alexander were basically tied in CD38, with a runoff in their future.

On the Republican side: Dan Crenshaw easily won against a couple of no-names in CD02, while Van Taylor was above 50% in his four-way race in CD03. Monica De La Cruz and Mayra Flores were above 50% in CDs 15 and 34, respectively, while Wesley Hunt was winning in the district that Republicans drew for him, CD38. Morgan Luttrell was above 50% in CD08. None of the incumbents who had challengers had any reason to sweat.

In the State Senate, Sen. John Whitmire had a 62-38 lead in early voting over Molly Cook in SD15. Cook lost the race, but I’d say she beat the spread, and if there’s another opportunity in 2024 she’s put herself in good position to take advantage of it. Morgan LaMantia and Sar Stapleton Barrera are one and two, neck and neck, for SD27; that will be a spirited runoff. Titus Benton was leading Miguel Gonzalez 51-49 with about half the vote counted in SD17.

House races of interest in Harris County: Harold Dutton had a 55-45 lead on Candis Houston early on. Alma Allen was headed to victory against two opponents in HD131. Jolanda Jones at about 45% in HD147, with a close race between Danielle Bess and Reagan Flowers for the other runoff spot. Chase West had a four-vote lead over Cam Campbell in HD132 in early voting.

Elsewhere in the state:

HD22 (open) – Joe Trahan was just short of a majority and will face Christian Hayes in the runoff.
HD26 (R held) – Daniel Lee defeated Lawrence Allen.
HD37 (open) – Ruben Cortez and Luis Villarreal in the runoff.
HD38 (open) – Erin Gamez won.
HD50 (open) – James Talarico, who moved over from HD52, won easily.
HD51 (open) – Lulu Flores won.
HD70 (open, new seat, R held, D pickup opportunity) – Too close to call among three candidates.
HD75 – Rep. Mary Gonzalez easily defeated her challenger.
HD76 (open, new D seat) – Suleman Lalani and Vanesia Johnson in the runoff.
HD79 (two Ds paired) – Rep. Claudia Ordaz Perez was leading Rep. Art Fierro.
HD92 (open, new seat, R held, D pickup opportunity) – Salman Bhojani won.
HD100 (open) – Sandra Crenshaw and Venton Jones headed for the runoff.
HD114 (open) – Too close to call among at least three candidates.
HD124 (open) – Josey Garcia won.
HD125 – Rep. Ray Lopez defeated his challenger.

On the R side, the main thing I will note is that former City Council members Greg Travis and Bert Keller will not be in the runoff for HD133.

Note that a lot of this is based on incomplete voting, so there may be some changes as of the morning. I’ll do some followup tomorrow.

The only constant is change

This DMN story is about the wave of changes to the various legislative caucuses in North Dallas, but if you pull the lens back just a little, you can see how universal it is.

Proponents of term limits complain that elected lawmakers often overstay their welcome.

That’s not the case these days in the Texas House, where turnover is occurring across the state. In North Texas, the 2022 elections could bring an array of new faces to the House and Senate.

When the Legislature convenes in 2023, there will be eight new members of the House. And a new senator will replace the retiring Jane Nelson of Denton County. Statewide, 28 House lawmakers have retired or left their seats to run or another office. Five senators are not running for reelection, including several moderate Republicans, including Kel Seliger of Amarillo and Larry Taylor of Friendswood.

The story goes on to list the folks from the Metroplex – mostly Dallas, Tarrant, Collin, and Denton counties – who are retiring or running for another office in 2022, and it’s a long list. But as we’ve discussed, there’s always a fair amount of turnover following a redistricting year, and there’s a lot more natural turnover in elected office than you might think.

My case in point: Here’s your list of federal and state election winners in 2012 from Harris County. Following the 2022 election, this is how many new names there will be:

– Six of nine members of Congress are gone, with only Reps. Al Green, Mike McCaul, and Sheila Jackson Lee remaining.
– All three SBOE members will be gone, as Lawrence Allen is running for HD26 this March.
– At least six out of eight members of the State Senate will be gone, with only Sens. Whitmire and Huffman still on the ballot. To be sure, two of those people are now statewide office holders, and one is on Commissioners Court, but this is about turnover. All three of their seats are now held by someone else.
– At least sixteen of the 24 State House members will be gone. Only Reps. Alma Allen, Gene Wu, Armando Walle, Senfronia Thompson, Harold Dutton, Ana Hernandez, Mary Ann Perez, and Hubert Vo are on the ballot.

If you want to take it one step further, note that four out of five members of Commissioners Court are gone, with the fifth (Jack Cagle) likely to be voted out this November. All holders of executive office, all members of the HCDE Board of Trustees, and nearly every District Court judge is new since then as well.

To be sure, some of the holdovers have been there for a long time. My point is that they’re a pretty rare exception, and that the norm is for most legislators to serve a couple of terms and then either lose an election or move on to something else, which may be another political office and may be something outside of electoral politics. This is one of the many reasons why I disdain term limits. Our very real lived experience shows that they are not necessary.

The flip side of this, as a companion story notes, is that turnover means that a fair amount of legislative and subject matters knowledge goes away when a veteran lawmaker moves on, voluntarily or otherwise. But that’s life, and as someone who has been in the corporate world for a couple of decades, I can tell you that the world will keep spinning. New people will get their chance, and generally speaking they’ll be fine, even if they do things differently.

Now if you want to complain that the kind of Republicans being elected these days in place of the Jane Nelsons and Larry Taylors and Kel Seligers and so forth are a couple of notches below them in terms of knowledge, seriousness, deportment, and a whole host of other qualities, you’ll get no argument from me. That’s a different problem, and it’s going to take both the election of more Democrats and a return to something approaching sanity and respect for democracy among Republicans as a whole to solve it.

The hotly contested SD15 primary

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

Sen. John Whitmire

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

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

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

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

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

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

Molly Cook

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One more thing:

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

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

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

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

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

Final roundup of interviews and judicial Q&As

Here they all are. As noted, I may return to some races for the runoff. For now, this is what we have. As a reminder, much more information about Democratic primary candidates, including links to the interviews and judicial Q&As, can be found on Erik Manning’s spreadsheet. Vote well.

Interviews

Duncan Klussman, CD38
Diana Martinez Alexander, CD38

Jinny Suh, Land Commissioner
Jay Kleberg, Land Commissioner

Sen. John Whitmire, SD15
Molly Cook, SD15

Aurelia Wagner, HD147
Danielle Bess, HD147
Jolanda Jones, HD147
Nam Subramanian, HD147
Reagan Flowers, HD147

Candis Houston, HD142
Chase West, HD132

Ben Chou, Harris County Commissioners Court Precinct 4
Ann Williams, Harris County Commissioners Court Precinct 4
Gina Calanni, Harris County Commissioners Court Precinct 4
Lesley Briones, Harris County Commissioners Court Precinct 4
Clarence Miller, Harris County Commissioners Court Precinct 4

Dylan Osborne, Harris County Treasurer (Incumbent)
Carla Wyatt, Harris County Treasurer
Marilyn Burgess, Harris County District Clerk (Incumbent)
Desiree Broadnax, Harris County District Clerk

Judicial Q&As

Kyle Carter, 14th Court of Appeals, Place 2
Cheri Thomas, 14th Court of Appeals, Place 2

Judge Chuck Silverman, 183rd Criminal District Court
Judge Abigail Anastasio, 184th Criminal District Court
Katherine Thomas, 184th Criminal District Court
Judge Jason Luong, 184th Criminal District Court
Andrea Beall, 185th Criminal District Court
Lema Barazi, 189th Civil District Court
Judge Scott Dollinger, 189th Civil District Court
Judge Greg Glass, 208th Criminal District Court
Kim McTorry, 208th Criminal District Court
Samuel Milledge, 228th Criminal District Court
Judge Chris Morton, 230th Criminal District Court
Judge Tristan Longino, 245th Family District Court
Angela Lancelin, 245th Family District Court
Judge Hilary Unger, 248th Criminal District Court
Judge Amy Martin, 263rd Criminal District Court
Dianne Curvey, 280th Family District Court
Judge Barbara Stalder, 280th Family District Court
Judge Chip Wells, 312th Family District Court
Teresa Waldrop, 312th Family District Court
Paul Calzada, 312th Family District Court
Judge Natalia Oakes, 313th Family District Court
Glenda Duru, 313th Family District Court
Judge Leah Shapiro, 313th Family District Court
Ieshia Champs, 315th Family District Court
Alycia Harvey, 482nd Criminal District Court
Veronica Monique Nelson, 482nd Criminal District Court

David Patronella, County Civil Court At Law #4
Manpreet Monica Singh, County Civil Court At Law #4
Treasea Treviño, County Civil Court At Law #4
Porscha Natasha Brown, County Criminal Court At Law #3
Judge Kelley Andrews, County Criminal Court At Law #6
Judge Andrew Wright, County Criminal Court At Law #7
Erika Ramirez, County Criminal Court At Law #8
Judge David Singer, County Criminal Court At Law #14
Judge Michael Newman, County Probate Court #2

Chris Watson, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 1 Place 2
Steve Duble, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 1 Place 2
Ron Campana, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 1 Place 2
Blair McClure, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 2 Place 2
Dolores Lozano, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 2 Place 2
Judge Lucia Bates, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 3 Place 2
Herbert Alexander Sanchez, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 3 Place 2
Ashleigh Roberson, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 3 Place 2

UPDATE: Naturally, I woke up this morning to see another set of Q&A responses in my inbox. They will run tomorrow.

Chris Hollins to run for Mayor

Wow.

Chris Hollins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interviews and judicial Q&As through February 4

Updating from last week. This is to put all of the interviews and judicial Q&As in a single post for your convenience, in case you missed something. This past week was CD38 plus Candis Houston in HD142 and Chase West in HD132. Next up, for the final week of interviews, will be two Land Commissioner candidates, Jinny Suh and Jay Kleberg. After that, I still have several Q&As and will run them till I run out. As noted before, I will likely do some more interviews for the runoffs.

Here’s the interview list so far, followed by the judicial Q&As. As a reminder, much more information about Democratic primary candidates, including links to the interviews and judicial Q&As, can be found on Erik Manning’s spreadsheet. Thanks to CityCast Houston for the recent shoutout in the newsletter and on the podcast. Let me know if you have any questions.

Interviews

Aurelia Wagner, HD147
Danielle Bess, HD147
Jolanda Jones, HD147
Nam Subramanian, HD147
Reagan Flowers, HD147

Ben Chou, Harris County Commissioners Court Precinct 4
Ann Williams, Harris County Commissioners Court Precinct 4
Gina Calanni, Harris County Commissioners Court Precinct 4
Lesley Briones, Harris County Commissioners Court Precinct 4
Clarence Miller, Harris County Commissioners Court Precinct 4

Dylan Osborne, Harris County Treasurer (Incumbent)
Carla Wyatt, Harris County Treasurer
Marilyn Burgess, Harris County District Clerk (Incumbent)
Desiree Broadnax, Harris County District Clerk

Sen. John Whitmire, SD15
Molly Cook, SD15

Duncan Klussman, CD38
Diana Martinez Alexander, CD38

Candis Houston, HD142
Chase West, HD132

Judicial Q&As

Kyle Carter, 14th Court of Appeals, Place 2

Judge Chuck Silverman, 183rd Criminal District Court
Judge Abigail Anastasio, 184th Criminal District Court
Lema Barazi, 189th Civil District Court
Judge Scott Dollinger, 189th Civil District Court
Judge Greg Glass, 208th Criminal District Court
Samuel Milledge, 228th Criminal District Court
Judge Chris Morton, 230th Criminal District Court
Judge Tristan Longino, 245th Family District Court
Angela Lancelin, 245th Family District Court
Judge Hilary Unger, 248th Criminal District Court
Dianne Curvey, 280th Family District Court
Judge Barbara Stalder, 280th Family District Court
Judge Chip Wells, 312th Family District Court
Teresa Waldrop, 312th Family District Court
Judge Natalia Oakes, 313th Family District Court
Glenda Duru, 313th Family District Court
Alycia Harvey, 482nd Criminal District Court

David Patronella, County Civil Court At Law #4
Porscha Natasha Brown, County Criminal Court At Law #3
Judge Kelley Andrews, County Criminal Court At Law #6
Judge Andrew Wright, County Criminal Court At Law #7
Erika Ramirez, County Criminal Court At Law #8
Judge David Singer, County Criminal Court At Law #14
Judge Michael Newman, County Probate Court #2

Chris Watson, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 1 Place 2
Blair McClure, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 2 Place 2
Judge Lucia Bates, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 3 Place 2
Herbert Alexander Sanchez, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 3 Place 2
Ashleigh Roberson, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 3 Place 2

Endorsement watch: Is there an order to this thing?

Two more endorsements, for your consideration. The Chron sticks with Sen. Whitmire in SD15.

Sen. John Whitmire

Incumbents get a few extra points in this process because we figure that since taxpayers have effectively funded their on-the-job training there’s no need to toss them out unless they give voters a good reason.

No Texas senator has had more on-the-job training than John Whitmire, a moderate Democrat who has spent nearly a half-century representing Houston under the pink dome, starting in the House.

His primary challenger for Senate District 15, Molly Cook, 30, does bring welcome energy, a fresh perspective as an emergency room nurse and a grassroots organizer, and a concern worth pondering: she argues Whitmire won’t be as effective next legislative session because he’ll have one eye on his recently announced campaign for Houston mayor.

“There’s a lot of evidence that Senator Whitmire has moved on, is ready for his next job,” Cook told us.

She’s right that the 72-year-old Whitmire’s influence has diminished over the years, from a scrappy senator who often made Texas Monthly’s list of best legislators to merely a shrewd survivor often hamstrung by Republicans’ iron grip on the Senate.

The fact that right-wing Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has allowed Whitmire to retain his long-held chairmanship of the Senate’s criminal justice committee and a seat on the powerful finance committee either shows Whitmire is still effective in a divided chamber or he’s made a deal with the devil not to push too hard on Democratic priorities. It’s probably both.

[…]

As for his run for mayor, Whitmire says he won’t start campaigning in earnest for mayor until July of 2023, a month after the regular session ends in June.

My interview with Sen. Whitmire is here and my interview with Molly Cook is here. I definitely get the impression that Sen. Whitmire’s announced candidacy for Mayor has annoyed some people, and that Cook, who has been well-received overall, has gotten some traction with it. How far that may take her, I don’t know. As I’ve said before, Sen. Whitmire has a strong brand and he’s done well with group endorsements. He’s clearly the favorite in this race. But keep an eye on Cook if SD15 gets vacated in January of 2024.

The Chron stays with another incumbent as they endorse District Clerk Marilyn Burgess.

Marilyn Burgess

Every night, after police make arrests, the Office of the Harris County District Attorney sends documents to the district clerk’s office. Until 2019, that meant a trek by staff, in the dark, across Buffalo Bayou from the courthouse to a downtown jail called the Joint Processing Center.

After winning office three years ago, Harris County District Clerk Marilyn Burgess, 67, continued the process her predecessor began implementing e-filing in the district courts, e-subpoenas, e-citations and other paperless solutions. Those reforms eliminated the need for nighttime document delivery across the bayou.

The challenger in this race, Desiree Broadnax, 50, knows all about that nighttime trek across the bayou. She’s a division manager with the Harris County district attorney’s office, where she’s worked gaining relevant experience for nearly 20 years. Her dedication to public safety and an efficient criminal justice system is evident. Given the backlog in the courts and rise in violent crimes, the county needs that. She acknowledged the improved paperless system but said that the District Clerk’s office has been unprepared during natural disasters, its handling of warrants isn’t fast enough and under Burgess the staff’s morale has suffered.

Burgess responded to each of these criticisms persuasively and we believe she is the better choice for Democrats in the March 1 primary. She acknowledged that during Hurricane Harvey, before her term began, the office had not been prepared, but that nonperishable food, inflatable cots and other contingency plans are now in place. She said that delays with warrants depend in large part on the different judges handling them. As for morale, she says that’s been a priority and that her reorganization of the department, eliminating a layer of managers, freed up money to provide raises.

My interview with Marilyn Burgess is here and with Desiree Broadnax is here. I don’t have anything to add to this, so let me just wonder about the Chron’s schedule for publishing these is. I realize, my own interview schedule is a bit random, but so far the Chron has done one statewide race, several legislative races, and now one county race, but hasn’t yet weighed in on some key ones like HD147 or Commissioners Court Precinct 4. I know that the publishing schedule depends heavily on the availability of the candidates – believe me, I feel that in my bones – but it would still be nice to know if they had plans to, say, finish one category before jumping to another like a Jeopardy! contestant hunting Daily Doubles. They’re doing a more limited set of races this year, and they say they’ll be running them “through Feb. 14”, which is barely more than a week away. I just wish I knew when to expect the races of great interest to show up.

Interviews and judicial Q&As through January 28

Updating from last week. This is to put all of the interviews and judicial Q&As in a single post for your convenience, in case you missed something. This past week was Senate District 15. This coming week will be CD38 plus the long-awaited Candis Houston in HD142 and Chase West in HD132, with two Land Commissioner interviews for after that. After that, probably just whatever remaining judicial Q&As there are. Why? Because the week after next is when early voting starts, and at this point I don’t have the time to try to schedule more interviews.

Here’s the interview list so far, followed by the judicial Q&As. As a reminder, much more information about Democratic primary candidates, including links to the interviews and judicial Q&As, can be found on Erik Manning’s spreadsheet. Let me know if you have any questions.

Interviews

Aurelia Wagner, HD147
Danielle Bess, HD147
Jolanda Jones, HD147
Nam Subramanian, HD147
Reagan Flowers, HD147

Ben Chou, Harris County Commissioners Court Precinct 4
Ann Williams, Harris County Commissioners Court Precinct 4
Gina Calanni, Harris County Commissioners Court Precinct 4
Lesley Briones, Harris County Commissioners Court Precinct 4
Clarence Miller, Harris County Commissioners Court Precinct 4

Dylan Osborne, Harris County Treasurer (Incumbent)
Carla Wyatt, Harris County Treasurer
Marilyn Burgess, Harris County District Clerk (Incumbent)
Desiree Broadnax, Harris County District Clerk

Sen. John Whitmire, SD15
Molly Cook, SD15

Judicial Q&As

Judge Chuck Silverman, 183rd Criminal District Court
Judge Abigail Anastasio, 184th Criminal District Court
Lema Barazi, 189th Civil District Court
Judge Scott Dollinger, 189th Civil District Court
Judge Greg Glass, 208th Criminal District Court
Judge Chris Morton, 230th Criminal District Court
Judge Tristan Longino, 245th Family District Court
Angela Lancelin, 245th Family District Court
Judge Hilary Unger, 248th Criminal District Court
Dianne Curvey, 280th Family District Court
Judge Chip Wells, 312th Family District Court
Teresa Waldrop, 312th Family District Court
Judge Natalia Oakes, 313th Family District Court
Glenda Duru, 313th Family District Court
Alycia Harvey, 482nd Criminal District Court

David Patronella, County Civil Court At Law #4
Porscha Natasha Brown, County Criminal Court At Law #3
Judge Kelley Andrews, County Criminal Court At Law #6
Judge Andrew Wright, County Criminal Court At Law #7
Judge Michael Newman, County Probate Court #2

Chris Watson, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 1 Place 2
Blair McClure, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 2 Place 2
Judge Lucia Bates, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 3 Place 2
Herbert Alexander Sanchez, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 3 Place 2
Ashleigh Roberson, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 3 Place 2

Interview with Sen. John Whitmire

Sen. John Whitmire

We’re going to spend some time in SD15 this week, where we have one of the challenges against a legislative incumbent. You know that incumbent well, he’s Sen. John Whitmire, he’s been in the Lege since 1973 and in the Senate since the 80s. You also know him because I’ve interviewed him before. Sen. Whitmire is the senior member of the State Senate, he’s the longtime Chair of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee where he’s still able to get things done even in Dan Patrick’s Senate, and he has a long list of accomplishments. He’s also announced that he intends to run for Mayor of Houston in 2023, which is one of the things I asked him about in the interview:

As with the judicial Q&A’s, more information about Democratic primary candidates, including links to the interviews and judicial Q&As, can be found on Erik Manning’s spreadsheet. I will periodically round up the links to these posts as well.

Filing update: Not that Rick Perry

I’m going to let this speak for itself.

Not that Rick Perry

Rick Perry is running for governor — but not that Rick Perry.

The Republican Party of Texas updated its list of candidate filings Monday — hours before the deadline for the March primary election — to include a Rick Perry running for governor. The party quickly confirmed that it was not Rick Perry, the former governor and U.S. energy secretary, against Gov. Greg Abbott. Instead it’s Ricky Lynn Perry, a man from Springtown, a town in Parker County northwest of Fort Worth. On the form, the man listed “Rick Perry” as the version of his name that he wants to appear on the ballot.

A LinkedIn profile for a Rick Perry from Springtown lists his current job as a senior desktop technician for Lockheed Martin. Neither Perry could be immediately reached for comment.

Abbott is running for a third term and has drawn at least three primary challengers. While Abbott may not be facing a challenge from his predecessor, having such a widely known name on the primary ballot could complicate his path to renomination.

Rick Perry was the longest-serving governor of Texas, preceding Abbott before the latter took office in 2015.

The candidate Perry’s form was notarized by Tony McDonald, an Austin lawyer who is active in anti-establishment conservative circles and has supported one of Abbott’s primary opponents, Don Huffines. McDonald told the Tribune that Perry is a “good conservative activist from Parker County” whom he knows through a “friend of a friend.” McDonald said he was supporting Perry and serving as his campaign treasurer.

Asked if one of Abbott’s existing primary challengers had convinced Perry to run, McDonald said he was “not aware of that.”

[…]

Abbott’s campaign, meanwhile, scoffed at Perry’s filing. The governor’s top political strategist, Dave Carney, said on Twitter that it was “another stupid pet trick” and that it “will backfire as these stunts always do.”

You know me, I love a good phony candidate story. Most likely this is just a dumb trick that will have no effect on the outcome. But it’s funny, and we could all use a laugh.

As yesterday was the filing deadline, there was a bit of a rush to get the job done, and the SOS Qualified Candidates page is missing a few names here and there. I’ll have another update tomorrow to fill in the remaining blanks, but in the meantime we have some coverage from the Trib.

The Democratic primary for lieutenant governor got a third candidate as Carla Brailey, vice chair of the state party, announced her campaign. Her launch came amid a lingering discussion among Democrats about whether their statewide slate is diverse enough.

Brailey said in an interview that she was running because she “really believe[s] our democracy is at stake, and I think this is gonna be one of the most important elections we have experienced in a very long time in Texas.”

“It’s very important that we have leadership that just reflects Texans — all Texans — and I think I will be able to do that,” said Brailey, who is Black.

She joined a primary field that includes Mike Collier, the last nominee for lieutenant governor who has been running since early this year, and state Rep. Michelle Beckley of Carrollton, who announced last month. Matthew Dowd, the cable-news commentator who once was a strategist for former President George W. Bush, had been running in the primary until last week, when he dropped out and said he wanted to make way for a more diverse field.

Brailey is not the only Democrat who has stepped forward for the statewide ticket as the filing deadline loomed. Janet Dudding, a 2020 candidate for a battleground state House seat in Brazos County, filed to run for comptroller, joining at least two other Democrats vying to take on GOP incumbent Glenn Hegar. Susan Hays, a prominent cannabis lawyer and hemp advocate, announced she was running for agriculture commissioner, giving Democrats their first candidate to challenge Republican incumbent Sid Miller.

“Farming is hard, but ethics should be easy,” Hays said Thursday as she announced her campaign against the scandal-prone Miller.

[…]

Over in the Houston area, where one of Texas’ new congressional seats is located, the longtime Republican frontrunner, Wesley Hunt, got arguably his best-known opponent yet: Mark Ramsey, a former member of the State Republican Executive Committee. The seat was drawn to favor the GOP, so Republicans have been watching how complicated of a path Hunt will have on his quest for a general-election win.

Until Monday, no Democrat was contesting the Houston-area seat — the 38th District — but that changed when Centrell Reed, a Houston life coach, switched to the race after filing for the 7th District. Reed’s decision spares the 7th District incumbent, U.S. Rep. Lizzie Pannill Fletcher, D-Houston, a primary challenge in a district that has been made much bluer by redistricting.

In state House races, there was little late drama involving incumbents. One question mark going into Monday was whether state Rep. Claudia Ordaz Perez would follow through on her plan to run against state Rep. Art Fierro, a fellow El Paso Democrat — and she did, filing with hours to spare. Ordaz Perez had chosen to take on Fierro after redistricting forced her into the district of a fellow El Paso Latina, Democratic state Rep. Lina Ortega.

In another late development in a state House contest, state Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, drew a primary challenger: Candis Houston, president of the Aldine chapter of the American Federation of Teachers. Dutton, chair of the House Public Education Committee, was under fire from fellow Democrats earlier this year over how he handled legislation placing restrictions on transgender student athletes.

That Lite Guv primary is going to be a tough choice, those are three good candidates. Susan Hays picked up an opponent in her race, some dude named Ed Ireson. CD38 went from zero candidates to three – in addition to Centrell Reed (who the SOS still had in CD07 as of last night), Diana Martinez Alexander (candidate for Commissioners Court, Precinct 3 in 2020) and someone named Duncan Klussman filed. Other Harris County highlights:

– Three people, one of whom is the long-awaited Erica Davis, filed for Harris County Judge, making it a six person field.
– Sen. John Whitmire picked up a challenger, Molly Cook, who is one of the leading opponents to the I-45 project; see here for a story about that project that quotes her.
– Dems now have candidates for HDs 129 and 150, though I still don’t see anyone for HD133.
– Moving the lens out a bit, there are a few more primary challenges in the Lege – Erin Zwiener (HD45), Rhetta Bowers (HD113), and Ray Lopez (HD125) now have company – but if anyone was expecting a wave of such contests, you’re still waiting.
– By the way, the means I have to know that there are some filings that are not yet reflected on the SOS page is the photo album on the HCDP Facebook page, which contained most of the late arrivers. Here’s the full album with all the filers in alphabetical order. You think someone got the idea to take a picture of all the hopefuls to ensure there are no more of those mystery candidates? It’s a damn good idea, whether or not that was the motivation behind it.

Like I said, I’ll post another update tomorrow, to clean up anything we missed this time around. The Chron, which focused more on the Republican side, has more.

Sen. Whitmire will run for Mayor in 2023

Big announcement.

Sen. John Whitmire

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

The nursing shortage

Just gonna leave this here.

A nursing shortage and a high volume of patients prompted Lyndon B. Johnson Hospital on Sunday night to declare an “internal disaster” in the emergency room, where wait times swelled to 24 hours, Harris Health System officials said Tuesday.

Internal disasters limit the flow of ambulance traffic to the hospital and are usually triggered by infrastructure problems, such as fires or diagnostic machine failures.

On Sunday, however, the hospital could only staff 16 of its 24 ICU beds. At one point, about 130 people were in the ER waiting room from an “onslaught” of patients with a variety of health problems, said Dr. Esmaeil Porsa, president and CEO at Harris Health System. The rise in patients came as the state of Texas is dealing with an acute surge of COVID-19 hospitalizations; on Tuesday, the state reported 7,305 hospitalized patients, an increase of 38 percent over last Tuesday.

The system needs about 250 more nurses to fully staff both LBJ and Ben Taub Hospital, said Porsa.

“It got a point where it was actually unsafe for us to accept more patients because we just did not have enough staff,” he said.

Porsa said the 215-bed hospital is no longer under an internal disaster but remains at capacity. It has since added staff for two ICU beds.

The disaster designation was first brought to light by an emergency room doctor who emailed State Sen. John Whitmire Sunday night about the “untenable” situation there. The email, obtained by the Houston Chronicle, pleaded for more nurses.

Just a reminder, a lot of doctors and nurses are thoroughly burned out from the earlier COVID waves. They had every reason to believe that things were finally better and they could get back to their regular, normal jobs, but that was not to be. And now we’re asking them do it all again, for an even bigger surge with no help at all from state government in sight. It’s just going to get worse from here.

July 2021 campaign finance reports: City of Houston

PREVIOUSLY: Congress, Harris County

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


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

Edwards            0      2,580        0      45,081

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

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

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

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

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

Republican bail reform bill passes House

Meh.

Rep. Andrew Murr

The Texas House on Tuesday passed a bill to alter the way criminal defendants can be released from jail before trial. The priority legislation would, in part, require judicial officers to use a risk assessment tool when making bail decisions and ban cashless release for those accused of some violent or sexual crimes.

House members approved House Bill 20 after significant changes — largely by the bill’s author — were made on the floor Monday.

“The goal today is to strike a balance in which we provide … credible information to our trained magistrates so that they can determine that those that are low risk have a chance to get out while those who are higher risk, with a violent offense or a violent criminal history, they don’t easily pay and immediately walk on the street the next day and do something else that harms us,” state Rep. Andrew Murr, the Junction Republican who authored the bill, said Monday.

Named the Damon Allen Act after a slain state trooper, HB 20 was deemed an emergency item by Gov. Greg Abbott at the beginning of the legislative session after similar legislation failed in 2019. The suspect in Allen’s shooting death during a 2017 traffic stop was out of jail on cash bail at the time.

After tentatively approving the bill Monday, the House finally passed HB 20 on a 98-to-46 vote Tuesday. It is now headed to the Senate — where its future is uncertain. Last month, the Senate passed a competing priority bail bill which varies significantly from the House’s measure. Senate Bill 21 since has stalled in the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee.

When making bail decisions, courts decide what restrictions are needed to release from jail a defendant who is legally presumed innocent while ensuring the person comes back to court and does not present a threat to public safety. Most often in Texas, that decision is currently based on a dollar amount.

The cash-reliant system has long prompted criticisms from bail reform advocates who argue it unfairly keeps poor people locked up while similar defendants with cash walk free. And federal courts have found bail practices in Texas’ two most populous counties unconstitutional for discriminating against poor defendants.

See here for the background. As this Chron editorial notes, HB20 is better than SB21 but still falls short because of its prioritization of cash bail. A fair and just system does not determine who gets to go home and who gets to stay locked up for weeks or months before even going on trial based on ability to pay. As Grits noted a month ago, any bail-related bill that has Greg Abbott’s support is highly unlikely to be upheld by the federal courts going forward. As such, the best move is to vote against HB20 and SB21, and wait for further direction from the Fifth Circuit.

Another nasty anti-trans bill passes the Senate

Just awful.

The Texas Senate tentatively approved a bill Monday in an 18-13 vote that would classify providing gender affirming health care to transgender minors as child abuse — just one of the Legislature’s many attempts to prevent transgender children from transitioning before their 18th birthday.

Senate Bill 1646 is among several other bills that advocacy groups say erode the rights of transgender Texans. Authored by Lubbock Republican Sen. Charles Perry, it amends the definition of abuse under Texas Family Code to include administering or consenting to a child’s use of puberty suppression treatment, hormones or surgery for the purpose of gender transitioning.

But it’s unclear what the legislation’s chances are in the House, where another major bill targeting transgender children appears to have stalled.

In a Senate committee hearing, SB 1646 attracted over four-and-a-half hours of public testimony from LGBTQ Texans, their parents and several state and national medical associations opposing the bill’s intrusion into intimate medical decisions. Social workers also testified the bill could put more transgender children into the foster care system, where they face elevated rates of suicide and depression.

Perry argued in floor debate that the bill was necessary to prevent children from making irreversible decisions that they may regret later, but experts say both of those claims are questionable.

According to Marjan Linnell, a general pediatrician, puberty suppression treatments are completely reversible and have been used for decades to delay early onset puberty. While other treatments such as hormones and surgery may cause irreversible changes, Linnell said the risks are discussed extensively with children and their parents before the procedures, which is typically only performed after puberty.

[…]

The Senate is set to take their final vote on the bill Wednesday. It previously passed Senate Bill 29, legislation that would force transgender students to participate in school sports based on the sex originally labeled on their birth certificate.

That bill has been sitting in a House committee since the Chair Harold Dutton, D-Houston, told the Houston Chronicle its identical House companion bill likely didn’t have the votes to make it to the full lower chamber.

See here and here for some background. While SB29 could be assigned to the Public Education committee, which is why it is bottled up, SB1646 likely will be assigned to a committee that is Republican-dominated, and thus like HB1399 it will likely advance to the House floor. From there, anything can happen.

I think we all know how I feel about this, so let me cite a couple of worthwhile tweets and call it a day.

Mayor Whitmire 2.0?

Buried in this story about the recent departure of HPD Chief Art Acevedo for Miami is the following tidbit:

Sen. John Whitmire

Houston insiders knew that the 56-year-old Acevedo had been considering a mayoral run once Sylvester Turner reached his term limit in 2024. But as Acevedo started prospecting for supporters, the response wasn’t good. Despite public grandstanding after George Floyd’s death—posing for photo ops with local protesters, changing his Twitter profile image to one of Floyd, granting countless TV interviews—his support in the Black community was thin, owing at least partly to ongoing animosity toward the HPD’s record on policing minority communities. Houston politicos also told me that the Mexican American community was lukewarm at best on the Cuban American police chief.

Even stranger, Acevedo’s support among non-Hispanic white Houstonians risked fracture. The police chief had made a gentleman’s agreement with John Whitmire, dean of the Texas Senate, not to run against him, should the Houston lawmaker seek the mayor’s office, as has been speculated. “Art and I are the best of friends, and he and I agreed months ago that we both wouldn’t be in the race,” said Whitmire, who conceded that, while he will run for reelection to the state Senate in 2022, he has been exploring a mayoral run.

I had neither Chief Acevedo nor Sen. Whitmire on my speculative list of 2023 Mayoral candidates. I’m actually a little more surprised to see Whitmire’s name in that story than I am to see Acevedo’s, if only because it’s hard to imagine the Texas Senate without Whitmire. On the other hand, it can’t be any fun to serve as a Democrat with Dan Patrick holding the gavel – there’s a reason why Rodney Ellis took the first chance to bail out for the seat on Commissioners Court – and the prospect of being the big fish who can actually get stuff done has to have a lot of appeal. As Campos notes, Whitmire already has a crap-ton of money, and the list of establishment politicians and civic leaders who would put their name on a list of his supporters is already multiple pages long. Whitmire would (largely) clear the field in a way that no one else could. If he wants to do this, he’d start out as the favorite.

Whether he would, and whether he should, are different questions. If Dems can finally break through at the statewide level in 2022, especially if they can beat Patrick, that might make staying in the Senate a lot more appealing, even as a member of the minority. Houston has a number of tough long-term challenges, and if the Senate continues to be an inhospitable place those challenges will be greater since the Legislature is much more interested in sticking it to the big cities than in helping them in any way. Whitmire may prevent some other potential candidates from entering the race against him, but he hasn’t had a real electoral challenge in a long time, and city politics are a lot different than state politics. Mayor of Houston is a powerful and prestigious job, but I guarantee it’s a lot harder and a much bigger time commitment than any state political gig. This is not a decision to be made lightly, that’s all I’m saying.

For what it’s worth, from my privileged position of armchair quarterback, I would like to see someone who sees themselves as a future statewide candidate be the next Mayor of Houston (*). Mayor of Houston would be a pretty good springboard to a statewide candidacy, and we’re going to need as deep a bench as we can get as statewide races become truly competitive. I specifically mentioned Sen. Carol Alvarado in this context when I came up with my theoretical candidates list last year, and I stand by that. Other people on my list – Amanda Edwards, Abbie Kamin, Chris Brown – also fit that bill, and one name suggested to me afterward who also would fit it is Michael Skelly. Nobody who is thinking about running for Mayor now has any reason to care about that, but I’m a blogger so it falls to me.

Anyway. We knew Mayor Turner was seriously running in 2015 well in advance, and I suspect we’ll know what Sen. Whitmire is thinking early on as well. In case you were wondering, by the way, Sen. Whitmire is the former brother-in-law of Mayor Kathy Whitmire; she is the widow of his brother. John Whitmire would make a very strong Mayoral candidate if he chooses to run. We’ll see what he decides.

(*) If you really want to think long-term, the next person elected Mayor will most likely serve through 2031. John Cornyn’s Senate seat will be on the ballot in 2032, and the next Governor’s race would be in 2034. One could mount a statewide campaign while halfway through one’s first term in the 2026 election, though I would not advise it, or one could run either as a one-term Mayor or midway through one’s second term in 2030. Sen. Whitmire is currently 71 years old.

PUC Chair resigns

The body count increases.

The chairwoman of the Public Utility Commission of Texas, the agency that regulates the state’s electric, telecommunication, and water and sewer utilities, resigned Monday, according to a resignation letter provided to the Texas Tribune.

The Gov. Greg Abbott-appointed commission came under public criticism in the aftermath of Texas’ power crisis that left millions of people in the dark for days and claimed the lives of dozens.

On Monday, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick called for PUC chairwoman DeAnn Walker and Electric Reliability Council of Texas CEO Bill Magness to resign.

[…]

Lawmakers began to call on the commissioners to resign Thursday after hearing testimony from Walker, who took little responsibility for the crisis during the house and senate committee hearings on the power outages. Rep. Jared Patterson, R-Frisco, wrote on Twitter that he has “zero confidence” in her after the Thursday hearings and that she “must” resign.

Walker came under fire during questioning for not doing more to prevent the crisis from occurring. Lawmakers probed how much information she had on whether the state’s power system could withstand winter storms, and questioned why she didn’t raise concerns about the possibility of outages sooner.

Walker, during her testimony to lawmakers last week, largely deflected blame to ERCOT and Magness, who testified in front of state senators on Thursday before Walker did.

“You know, there’s a lot of things Bill said about our authority over them that I simply disagree that that’s how it’s actually playing out in real life,” Walker told lawmakers.

But lawmakers countered that she leads the regulatory agency with the oversight of the power sector: “When you say you don’t have authority,” said state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, “I’ve got you down as a pretty powerful person.”

Walker said the commission has “not been given legal authority by the Legislature to require winter weatherization,” a primary concern after the power crisis was precipitated by power plants tripping offline. Many power generators are not built to withstand extreme cold weather temperatures in Texas.

Walker deflected blame to ERCOT, the entity her agency oversees, and added of winterization: “It costs a lot of money.”

In her resignation letter to Gov. Abbott, Walker said she was resigning because she believed it to be in the best interest of the state. She also pushed back on criticisms that she did not take responsibility for the outages.

“I testified last Thursday in the Senate and House and accepted my role in the situation,” Walker wrote.

She went on to call on others, including the Railroad Commission, ERCOT, the Legislature, gas companies, electric generators and other industry players to “come forward” to acknowledge how their actions contributed to the power crisis — all of them, she wrote, “had responsibility to foresee what could have happened and failed to take the necessary steps for the past 10 years to address issues that each of them could have addressed.”

See here for why we all needed more focus on the PUC and its all-Greg-Abbott-appointed board. I didn’t write about Walker’s testimony before the Senate, but the reaction was swift and unsurprising. I’m not going to defend De Ann Walker, but all this is a little precious given the warning the state got 10 years ago and the Legisnature’s steadfast refusal to take any action in response. It’s right for the Lege to call out ERCOT and the PUC and hold them accountable for their failures, but who’s going to do the same to the Lege and Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick and the Railroad Commission? That’s on us, and if we’re not still paying attention next year when we get the chance to exert that authority, we’ll let them get away with it again. The Chron has more.

Getting rid of racist deed restrictions

Let’s get this done.

Sen. John Whitmire

A bill was proposed in the Texas Legislature two years ago that sought to make it easier for homeowners to remove unconstitutional, unenforceable and discriminatory provisions from real property records.

State Sen. John Whitmire said he did not catch wind of the proposed legislation until late during the biennial session, which ended without it coming to pass.

This year, though, the longest-tenured legislator at the state capitol in Austin is determined to help the bill become Texas law, which would be welcomed by many of his constituents in his hometown of Houston.

“It’s my priority among my priorities,” Whitmire said.

Whitmire has filed Senate Bill 214, which is identical to House Bill 485 authored by State Rep. Gene Wu of Houston, in the legislative session that began last month. If the bill makes it through both chambers and is adopted by state legislators, it would become Texas law on Sept. 1.

The legislation, first introduced two years ago by Wu, would allow homeowners in neighborhoods such as Garden Oaks and Oak Forest to more easily remove the racist provision in their longstanding deed restrictions that say only members of the “Caucasian race” are allowed to own homes in the communities or even live there. The restriction has been unenforceable for decades under state and federal law, but it remains in Harris County property records and continues to be an eyesore and embarrassment for residents of both neighborhoods.

“I would love it,” Oak Forest resident Ashley Cavazos said. “If this bill comes to pass, hopefully it provides a pathway for the entire neighborhood.”

Cavazos is the leader of a volunteer neighborhood initiative called Oak Forest Deed for Change, which aims to remove the racist language from the deed restrictions by amending and restating them through procedures outlined by the Texas Property Code. But the process has proven exhaustive, because updating the deed restrictions in the seven Oak Forest sections that contain the offensive language requires the approval of at least 75 percent of property owners in each section.

Cavazos and her fellow volunteers have started with Section 4. Eight months into the effort – which has included regular Zoom calls, pro bono work by attorneys in the neighborhood and a signature party – she said signatures have been obtained from only about 25 percent of the section’s property owners.

Here are SB214 and HB485. The updated language would allow a single homeowner to remove the unconstitutional language from the deed restrictions for their neighborhood with a single filing. This is one of those things that should have happened a long time ago, but it wasn’t. This would be a good time to call your own State Rep and State Senator and tell them that you support these bills, because the biggest enemy to them is time and the attention that other bills will demand. The more visibility that a good bill that isn’t going to have any real opposition can get, the better.

The Senate outlines its opening plans

Seems inadequate to me, but what do I know?

All Texas senators attending the opening day of the 2021 legislative session will be tested for the coronavirus and media and public access to the chamber will be limited, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick announced Monday morning.

In a public memo, Patrick outlined a list of protocols for the Texas Senate’s Jan. 12 opening day, which typically sees the Texas Capitol packed with members, guests and families.

“Senators have agreed to a much shorter opening day ceremony to reduce the time spent in a large gathering,” he wrote. “The Senate is reducing all ceremonial events and gatherings this session to focus solely on their constitutional legislative duties.”

Access to the Senate floor will be restricted to lawmakers and one family member at each senator’s desk. There will be no floor seating outside the brass rail or anywhere else on the Senate floor — a stark difference from past years when the chamber floor was fully in use for family and guest seating.

A pool of four members of the media who have been granted credentials will be allowed in the second-floor gallery on opening day. In normal times, credentialed members of the media are allowed to sit at a table on the Senate floor.

Each lawmaker or incoming member will have three guest seats for family, friends or constituents in the gallery, a move Patrick said will limit the gallery to fewer than 100 guests and ensure space for social distancing. Patrick’s memo made no mention of masks and it was not immediately clear whether masks would be required in the chamber. The state House has announced that it will require them on opening day.

See here and here for the background. Visitors to the Capitol are required to wear masks, but Senators are special, so you know. They’re also, you know, old: Bob Hall, Chuy Hinojosa, Eddie Lucio, Robert Nichols, John Whitmire, and Judith Zaffirini – not to mention our very own Dan Patrick – are all over 70, and at least five others are over 60. I hate to be morbid, but just in the past week we’ve learned of two state legislators and one incoming member of Congress who died from COVID, and all of them were younger than that. Maybe everyone will show up wearing masks and it won’t be a big deal, but I cannot get over the casualness. Even worse, I’m not sure that someone in the Lege dying of COVID will change anyone’s behavior or beliefs. All I know is, I’m glad I don’t have to be there, and I fear for everyone who does.

Let’s fix the Sandra Bland Act

Let’s make it what it was supposed to have been in the first place.

Sandra Bland

After Sandra Bland’s death in a rural Texas jail drew outrage across the nation, two Texas lawmakers filed a comprehensive bill to address racial profiling during traffic stops, ban police from stopping drivers on a traffic violation as a pretext to investigate other potential crimes, limit police searches of vehicles and other jail and policing reforms.

But by the time the Legislature passed it, most of the sweeping provisions related to policing had been stripped out.

Now, on the heels of the death of George Floyd, those lawmakers say they’re determined to try again to push those reforms through when the Legislature reconvenes in January 2021.

State Sen. John Whitmire and state Rep. Garnet Coleman, both Houston Democrats who chair relevant committees in their respective chambers, said in a joint news release Tuesday they would continue to work together on criminal justice reform efforts next year. Whitmire’s chief of staff and Coleman confirmed to The Texas Tribune that they will begin with pushing again for measures they hoped to achieve with the 2017 law — like investigations into racial profiling and officer consequences. Many provisions were removed from the bill after law enforcement opposition.

[…]

Coleman told the Tribune on Tuesday that he and Whitmire will start with filing legislation that was removed from the Sandra Bland Act in 2017, such as measures to increase the standards by which law enforcement can stop and search a vehicle and ban law enforcement from stopping drivers for minor traffic violations to allow an officer to look into other suspicions. Coleman said they will also look at filing measures related to what constituents are asking for in the wake of Floyd’s death, “specifically getting rid of choke holds” and ensuring that, “if a peace officer is standing around watching their colleague do something wrong, that they must intervene.”

See here for some background. The Chron adds some details.

Lawmakers in 2019 tried to revive the limitation on arrests but faced steep opposition from police unions and lost support from some Democrats who disagreed with parts of its language that they felt gave police too much discretion.

This time around, however, Gov. Greg Abbott is already speaking publicly in support of legislation that would prevent a death like Floyd’s from happening in Texas, which he called a “horrific act of police brutality” in a news conference Tuesday.

State Rep. Garnet Coleman, the Houston Democrat who authored the Sandra Bland Act, was listening.

“When Sandra Bland happened, we didn’t have Gov. Abbott coming out and saying that this was appalling,” said Coleman, a member of the newly formed bipartisan House Criminal Justice Reform Caucus. “We do on this case. Across the country, people who ordinarily would not side with the protesters in terms of what happened, they are. We have peace officers kneeling with protesters saying enough is enough. … That’s the great thing about life. Things can evolve.”

[…]

The Sandra Bland Act has already seen some early success: According to the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, the number of annual suicides declined by 50 percent from 35 in 2015 to 17 in 2018 after the implementation of new standards for mentally ill inmates and independent investigations of jail deaths

Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, who leads the House Criminal Justice Reform Caucus, said he also hopes to bring back discussion of the misdemeanor arrest restrictions missing from the Bland Act, as well as reforms of grand juries and the death penalty.

“It’s just a nightmare scenario with not only Mr. Floyd’s death but all of the stories — they’ve got to compel us not just to say the right things but to do the right things,” Leach said. “So, yes, my hope is that we will come together quickly and act, and I think you’re going to see the House and Senate do that next session.”

Other reforms lawmakers’ said they’d like to revisit in 2021 include deeper training on racial bias, stronger laws to prevent racial profiling in arrests and, like the Blands, ending “pretext stops.”

[…]

The fiercest political opposition has tended to come from police unions, including the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas, better known as CLEAT.

Last session, the group fought the measure blocking arrests for class C, low-level misdemeanors because of a concern about taking away officer discretion.

It also opposed a bill written by state Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, that would have made more records regarding in-custody death public. The police union said it was concerned that alleged misconduct would become public before the completion of an investigation.

After a bitter fight, the group declined to meet with Moody and certain other lawmakers.

“There’s a philosophical shift that we have to undertake next session,” Moody said. “Being told that we can’t even have a conversation about it, that is a nonstarter. We are going to have a conversation about this. … So while some cop lobbyist in Austin says we’re not allowed to talk about it, it’s not his decision to make. It’s our decision to make, and we have to get to work on this in a real way.”

There’s lots of things the Lege could do, and this all sounds like a good start. Overcoming opposition from law enforcement will be the main challenge. The head guy at CLEAT says they’re willing to talk to anyone speaking “in good faith”, and you can take that as you see fit. As I see it, they’re welcome to sit at our table if they have something constructive to offer, but no one has to go sit at theirs if they don’t want to. This session looks like the best opportunity to take positive action. Let’s keep that momentum going.

UPDATE: Well, what do you know?

In the first statewide policy change since George Floyd’s death shook the nation, the Texas agency that regulates police has agreed to add implicit bias training to a course required for every officer, upon the request of Houston Democratic state Rep. Garnet Coleman.

The requirement was one that had been included in an early iteration, but not the final version, of the 2017 Sandra Bland Act, which requires all officers to take de-escalation training.

This time, Coleman went a different route and simply asked the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement if it would make the change administratively as opposed to waiting for new legislation. To his delight, the commission responded a day later that it would adopt the policy.

Coleman said he will work with the agency on crafting and finalizing curriculum, but the purpose will be to train officers about the possibility that they may be unconsciously carrying preconceived notions or prejudices that can affect their actions on the job.

“It does what the public is asking for,” Coleman said. “When a police officer doesn’t understand that they have this bias, the only way to change it is for them to recognize that they have a bias that may be a racial bias.

“When people say, ‘How do you change how people think?’ This is how you change how people think.”

Who knew it could be that easy? May the rest of it be the same.

House passes a bail reform bill

For what it’s worth.

Rep. Kyle Kacal

The Texas House gave an initial stamp of approval Thursday to a bill that addresses bail practices, which courts recently deemed unconstitutional in the state’s two most populous counties for discriminating against poor criminal defendants who can’t pay for their release from jail.

But a last-minute amendment actually limits who can be released from behind bars without having cash.

Reform advocates have called for a system that could get poor, nonviolent defendants out of jail before their trial, but the amendment by state Rep. Oscar Longoria, D-Mission, is more restrictive than current law on no-cost releases. It would not allow judicial officers to release defendants on no-cost bonds for numerous reasons, including if they haven’t shown up to a court hearing in the previous two years, were charged with a violent offense or were charged with a crime that involves more than 4 grams of a controlled substance.

House Bill 2020 was one of several bail reform measures filed this year after federal court rulings, jail deaths and a state trooper’s murder drew attention to Texas’ pretrial jailing practices after the last legislative session. As it was presented to the chamber, the bill would have required officials to consider a defendant’s risk of danger or skipping court before making bail decisions. The successful amendment nixed that requirement if a defendant is released on a preset bail amount.

The bill’s author, state Rep. Kyle Kacal, R-College Station, said he worked in coordination with Republican Gov. Greg Abbott’s office on the measure, but it has changed significantly since it was filed in March. One of the most notable revisions before coming to the floor was that it no longer puts the power over systemic bail changes under the governor’s office.

[…]

Longoria’s amendment drastically alters the bill, but he emphasized that the move to restrict release for defendants on personal bonds — which have no upfront cost — for some defendants was based on safety, noting that it limited no-cost release for sexual assault and family violence offenses.

“It was more of a community safety issue,” he told The Texas Tribune after the bill passed. “A lot of judges don’t have the proper training to basically admonish the defendants and set proper bond.”

The amendment went against what many advocates have pushed for, and Marc Levin with the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank, said he would push to have the Senate remove it if the bill finally passes the House.

“It certainly would contribute to inequality in the system, and it could contribute to dangerous people who have money being released when they shouldn’t,” he said.

Some bail reform advocates have also criticized the bill for still relying on money bail instead of presuming release on no-cost bonds for nonviolent defendants. At a hearing last month, the criminal justice advocacy group Texas Fair Defense Project claimed the bill at that time didn’t adequately address federal court rulings that said Harris and Dallas counties’ bail practices kept people in jail simply because they were too poor to pay their bonds, and the group called for individual bail hearings within two days. The organization also said the bill’s requirement of a risk assessment would prohibit judges from automatically releasing from jail most misdemeanor defendants on a no-cost bond. Newly elected judges in Harris County adopted that practice amid legal woes the county faced from the federal ruling.

“We would like to see … that they’re still allowed to make a decision to automatically release defendants on really low-level, nonviolent offense,” Emily Gerrick, a staff attorney for the organization, said at the hearing.

Amendments to allow counties to release defendants on no-cost bonds before a risk assessment and to address the court rulings that called for individualized bail hearings failed Thursday.

See here and here for the background. Earlier bills by Rep. Andrew Murr and Sen. John Whitmire appear to be dead at this point, so it’s this bill or nothing. Grits believes none of these bills were going to address the main constitutional flaws in the existing system, which should be clarified in the coming months by the Fifth Circuit. After reading through this story, I’m inclined to agree. If this bill falls short of what the court is likely to order, what’s the point? Whatever the case, it’s up to the Senate now.

Why would any Dem Senator change their mind on Whitley?

I can’t think of a good answer to that, but the man himself is going to try.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Acting Secretary of State David Whitley, whose confirmation has been stalled in the Texas Senate after a controversial advisory from his office questioned the citizenship of nearly 100,000 voters, has asked to meet with Senate Democrats following a settlement agreement that rescinded and re-worked the advisory on Friday.

Sen. José Rodriguez, a Democrat from El Paso who leads the chamber’s Democratic caucus, said Whitley asked to meet with the caucus on Tuesday. Rodriguez said he was polling the caucus to see if any member had an objection to Whitley attending the caucus meeting. The caucus meets on a regular basis during the session.

“Obviously, he wants to talk about the settlement agreement,” Rodriguez said. “For me, it doesn’t change anything.”

In a statement, the secretary of state’s office said: “Secretary Whitley welcomes the opportunity to meet with the Texas Senate Democratic Caucus to discuss the settlement agreement and voter registration list maintenance going forward. He looks forward to addressing the concerns of the Caucus and receiving feedback on ways to enhance access to the ballot box in Texas.”

[…]

Advocacy groups are pressuring Senate Democrats to block his confirmation. On Monday, 22 groups including several that participated in the lawsuit against Whitley, sent a letter to the caucus urging them to vote against his confirmation.

“While we are grateful that the legal challenges to Mr. Whitley’s actions have been resolved, the settlement does not let Mr. Whitley off the hook for his decision to target tens of thousands of naturalized Americans for disenfranchisement and wrongful criminal prosecution,” the letter read.

“Texans deserve better than Mr. Whitley. Public service is a privilege, not a right, and there are a number of other qualified people that the Governor can appoint to this position,” the letter read. “We ask you to continue to block Mr. Whitley’s confirmation, so that we as a State can turn the page on the Whitley scandal and continue to have faith in our elections system.”

Several Senators are quoted in the story, all of whom reconfirm their No votes. It would take two Dems to change their minds for Whitley to have a chance, and I just can’t think of any reason for that. Whitley has yet to demonstrate that he understands why people objected so strongly to the purge effort – he has yet to demonstrate that he understands why people called it a “purge” – and on top of that he’s just straight up bad at this job. We’ve seen plenty of SOSes over the years, and none I can think of have been this controversial. Greg Abbott can surely find another crony with less baggage to install for this post.

Also, too:

I’m not opposed to a little horse-trading, but the first horse on offer needs to be one of theirs. The Chron, which quotes some other Senators and suggests that online and/or same day voter registration would be a good horse to swap for Whitley support, has more.

Abbott wants in on bail reform

Not sure yet what to make of this.

The ongoing federal lawsuits (and the potential for new ones) and recent jail deaths have further spurred efforts in Texas to address the court rulings and help get poor people accused of nonviolent crimes out of jail. Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has prioritized fixing the bail system this session, but he has focused more on making it harder for dangerous defendants to get out of jail.

But when this legislative session’s first pair of major reform bills were filed last month by a Democratic senator and Republican House representative who have worked on the issue for years, Abbott was silent. Now, he appears to have thrown his weight behind a less-detailed bill with the same name. A key difference: It puts power over changes to Texas’ bail system directly into his office — giving him control over the creation of a risk-assessment tool to be used in bail decisions.

The bill was only recently filed, and advocacy groups for bail reform have acknowledged that it will likely be tweaked as it moves through the Legislature, but the legislation still has drawn concern from groups that say it doesn’t properly address the problems that led to federal litigation and that it is fully “unworkable” in some areas.

“If the Legislature does not want federal courts to design local bail systems in Texas, they need to pass a bill that corrects the essential problem of people who could otherwise safely be released being jailed for no other reason than their not having money for bail,” said Mary Schmid Mergler, director of the criminal justice project for the advocacy group Texas Appleseed, in an email to The Texas Tribune.

She added that the first bills filed are more comprehensive and research driven.

[…]

A primary piece of Whitmire and Murr’s legislation would have the state’s Office of Court Administration create a risk-assessment tool to help judges determine an arrestee’s potential for posing a danger or skipping court hearings if released from jail before trial. It would also establish procedures in statute aimed at releasing poor, low-risk defendants from jail on no-cost bonds while those deemed a high risk would be detained before trial without the option of bailing out with cash. (Currently in Texas, bail release can only be denied in capital murder cases or in certain repeat felony or bail violation circumstances.)

The second Damon Allen Act filed this month by state Rep. Kyle Kacal, R-College Station, also includes a risk-assessment tool, but it doesn’t specify how and when the tool would be used to affect bail practices. Instead, it creates a program within the governor’s office that would both develop the tool and recommend best practices for pretrial release decisions.

“I think [Abbott] and his office produced the Kacal bill, which means we’ve got a lot of work to do with the governor’s office if we’re going to pursue my bill,” Whitmire told the Tribune last week. “I know [Abbott] wants to control it.”

[…]

A risk-assessment tool is included in Kacal’s legislation, but it is much less specific than Whitmire and Murr’s bills, which explicitly lay out how and by when judicial officers must use the tool in making bail decisions, in part nodding to the necessary changes called for by federal judges in Harris and Dallas counties. Instead, the Kacal (and now Whitmire) legislation places the power for creating the risk-assessment tool, as well as deciding on best practices for pretrial release, directly under the governor.

The bill would create a Bail Advisory Program within the governor’s Criminal Justice Division, a grant-making arm of the executive office. The governor would appoint a director, and the program would develop a pretrial risk-assessment tool for bail decisions (with help from the Office of Court Administration), recommend best practices for bail decisions and collect data on bail practices statewide.

“[Abbott’s] concerned about who would get out on a [no-cost] bond, and I guess he thinks if he came up with a risk-assessment model, he would be able to have more input,” Whitmire said.

See here for some background. I am of course generally suspicious of Abbott’s motives, but so far reform advocates haven’t complained, Whitmire has expressed his willingness to work with him, and as Whitmire notes they do need the governor’s signature. If this increases the odds of the bill passing, and it doesn’t result in the bill being too watered down, then this is fine. Everyone agrees there will be changes made to the final bill, so that’s what we need to watch.

Still a “no” on Whitley

As it should be.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Senate Democrats still pledge to block the confirmation of embattled Secretary of State David Whitley, even as a top Texas law enforcement official is taking blame for major errors in a list of suspected non-citizen voters.

“I take full responsibility as the leader of the Department of Public Safety,” Steven McCraw told the Senate Criminal Justice Committee this week. Had the department assigned a “senior level person” to the project, he said, it wouldn’t have turned over bad data that included thousands of people who had already proven their citizenship.

“I can tell you throughout the entire project, the secretary was not involved in any of it because he wasn’t there at the time,” McCraw said.

The mea culpa, however, is being met with skepticism from county election officials, who first identified mistakes in the state list, and from Senate Democrats, who still fault Whitley. He had been on the job about six weeks before launching the attempted purge.

“Ultimately he’s responsible, because he is the secretary of state,” state Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, said Thursday. “I still think he’s a fine gentleman, he just made the wrong decision.”

[…]

Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, said McCraw’s statement this week didn’t change his mind.

“I don’t know that changed anybody’s mind,” Whitmire said. “The harm has been done.”

The Democrats’ resistance is a rare show of force from the minority party this early in the legislative session, said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston. Abbott’s nominees don’t usually meet much pushback from the upper chamber.

“I can’t remember ever having someone this controversial in my 29 years in the Senate,” Lucio said.

See here and here for some background. All due respect to Sen. Lucio, but I’d argue that the David Bradley and Don McLeroy fiascoes were on par with this one. Be that as it may, the Abbott-McCraw blame-passing pas-de-duex doesn’t pass the smell test.

State Elections Director Keith Ingram acknowledged in federal court that the secretary of state’s office knew ahead of time that issue might pose some problems with the list. Some 50,000 people are naturalized each year in Texas.

“I don’t see why DPS is taking responsibility, other than it’s convenient for the Department of Public Safety to take the fall, rather than the secretary of state,” said Special Assistant Harris County Attorney Douglas Ray, who has said DPS data is notoriously unreliable.

Williamson County Elections Administrator Chris Davis questioned why the secretary of state’s office didn’t spot the errors that were quickly evident to county officials.

“The secretary of state had a duty to vet this information,” said Davis, who is president of the Texas Association of Elections Administrators. “So much of this could have been avoided had they done so.”

“I apologize to all of the voters whose citizenship was called into question by this advisory. In our effort to protect the integrity of our voter registration system, my office acted in haste to verify the rolls, and in doing so created unnecessary problems for county officials and many voters. I take responsibility for this, and I promise to take every step to improve and optimize our processes to achieve our goal of ensuring that elections are protected and all eligible citizens have the opportunity to vote.” See how easy that was? If David Whitley had said something like that at the beginning, we wouldn’t be having this discussion now. He’d have been confirmed, and we’d be obsessing about something else. Why hasn’t Whitley taken responsibility for his actions, and why does Greg Abbott insist on coddling him in this fashion?

Trying again for bail reform at the Lege

A very worthwhile pursuit.

Sen. John Whitmire

State Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, and state Rep. Andrew Murr, R-Junction, announced Monday at the Capitol that they have again filed legislation that would implement a risk-assessment tool for judges to use when making bail decisions, among other proposals. Joining them in support of the legislation were the state’s two top judges, Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Hecht — who has publicly called for a change to Texas’ system for years — and Court of Criminal Appeals Presiding Judge Sharon Keller.

“I don’t believe I’ve seen anything more broken in the criminal justice system than our current bail bond process,” Whitmire said. “If we do not fix it, ladies and gentlemen, the federal courts will.”

Bail is a legal mechanism to ensure defendants appear in court for their hearings after being charged with a crime. The most common practice is money bail, in which judicial officers set a bond amount that defendants must pay in order to be released. In the last few years, lawsuits have popped up all over the country — including in Texas — arguing that the system wrongfully detains poor defendants until their case is resolved while similar defendants with cash are allowed to go free.

In a speech to the 2017 Legislature, Hecht argued for reforms by noting that 75 percent of people in Texas jails have not been convicted. To illustrate what he considers a flawed system, he cited the case of a grandmother who was kept in jail for about two months on a $150,000 bond after allegedly shoplifting $105 worth of clothes for her grandchildren.

The bipartisan legislation filed Monday aims to help poor, low-level defendants get out of jail on free bonds and keep in jail those thought to be flight risks or threats to public safety. The proposed risk-assessment tool would have to be used within two days of arrest to help judges determine the defendant’s level of risk based on criminal history, not just the current offense. The bills are similar to last session’s, when legislation passed the Senate but died before reaching the House floor.

Whitmire blamed his 2017 bill’s failure on the powerful bail bond industry, which includes companies that front the full cost of a bail bond at a fee of about 10 percent. (A defendant being held on a $1,000 bond, for example, could pay $100 to a bail bond company to be released.) He said last session that bail bond companies opposed the bill because it would cut into their cash flow, but those in the industry have argued the measure would lessen a judge’s discretion and threaten public safety by letting more people out of jail.

[…]

To set bail, most Texas jurisdictions use bail schedules, in which a bond amount is set based solely on the criminal charge. The proposed risk assessment tool would also take into account the defendant’s criminal history and age.

If the tool determines that a defendant shows a lower risk of skipping court hearings or posing a threat to public safety, the judicial officer would release the person on a no-cost “personal bond” with or without conditions, like GPS tracking or drug testing. Under the proposed measure, judges and magistrates could still impose money bail if they decided it was the least restrictive way to ensure court appearance and public safety, but they could not use it as a way to detain poor defendants before their trials.

The risk assessment tool is meant to keep poor defendants from being kept in jail before being convicted simply because they can’t afford a low-cost bond amount. Critics of current bail practices have argued that risk assessment tools considering criminal history can reinforce a system that prejudices against poor people of color. If someone was arrested on a charge earlier tied to race or poverty status, that person would be given a higher risk level. But the critics still support the tool over current practices.

“Until we can get some better tools, then the risk assessment system would need to work for now,” said Tarsha Jackson, criminal justice director of the Texas Organizing Project, a nonprofit that advocates for low-income communities and people of color.

The other piece of the proposed legislation would change bail practices — and the Texas Constitution — to allow judicial officers to deny bail if they believe money bail or a personal bond couldn’t reasonably ensure the person would show up for court or if that person might endanger the safety of a victim or the public.

Since release on bail is a constitutional right in Texas except in capital murder cases, changing this part of the law requires voter approval even after the Legislature passes it.

See here and here for the background. Whitmire got his bill through the Senate in 2017, but neither his bill nor Murr’s made it out of committee in the House. This year, we have the settlement of the Harris County litigation and support for the idea of bail reform from Greg Abbott, so perhaps the odds are better. It’s never a bad time to call your legislators and let them know you would like them to support these bills.

Initial thoughts: The Lege

Live by the gerrymander, die by the gerrymander.

At the end of the 2011 legislative session, state Rep. Rafael Anchia, a Dallas Democrat, sat down to dinner with a Republican colleague from the Texas House. Anchia was exhausted and incensed.

It had been a brutal six months for House Democrats, who were down to 48 seats in the 150-seat chamber. After riding a red wave in the 2010 election, Republicans used their new House supermajority to redraw Texas’ political maps following the once-a-decade census in a way that would help them hold onto their gains. They all but assured GOP control of the House for the next decade and secured almost 60 percent of the seats in Dallas County, even though the county was already reliably blue.

Anchia recalled telling the Republican colleague, who he declined to name, that Dallas Democrats were “getting screwed.” But the colleague offered a puzzling piece of solace: “There’s not going to be one [Dallas] Republican left by the end of this decade.”

Seven years later, that political forecast almost became reality. Amid their zeal for control, Republicans in 2011 opted for keeping their numbers up in the county and dismissed the possibility of creating a district with a black and Hispanic majority that could’ve made their seats safer in a Democratic wave election. Going into Election Day, Republicans held seven of the 14 House seats in Dallas County. But a collapse of the Republican-leaning redistricting scheme has left them with just two seats — and even those were won by narrow margins.

“The lesson is you can get too clever in gerrymandering,” said Michael Li, a redistricting expert with the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University.

[…]

As far as Democrats and redistricting experts are concerned, Republicans could have opted to create a new “opportunity district” for the county’s growing population of color. That would’ve reduced the number of voters of color in Republican districts, giving the GOP more of a cushion through the decade, but it would have also likely added another seat to the Democrats’ column.

Opting instead for more power, the Democrats alleged, the Republicans packed and cracked Latino voters across the county to diminish their voting strength overall and ensure a GOP majority.

But Republicans “shaved those things off a little too close because they got greedy,” said Jose Garza, a voting rights lawyer who helped challenge the GOP’s mapmaking. And in a wave election like this, the vulnerable Republican majority loses its edge, he added.

Here’s my precinct analysis from 2016 for Dallas County. I had some thoughts about how this year might go based on what happened in 2016, so let me quote myself from that second post:

“So the best case for the Republicans is a clear win in six districts, with two tossups. Democrats can reasonably hope to have an advantage in eight districts, and in a really good year could mount a decent challenge in 11. These are Presidential year conditions, of course, though as we’ve discussed several times, there’s every reason to believe that 2018 will not be like 2010 or 2014. It still could be bad – Dems will definitely have to protect HD107 – but if the off-year cycle has been broken, there are a lot of opportunities in Dallas to make gains.”

In actuality, Dems won twelve of fourteen races, with a recount possible in one of the two losses. Clearly, I did not see that coming. The supercharged performance in Dallas County overall contributed not only to these results, but also the wins in SD16 and CD32. If this is the new normal in Dallas County, Republicans are going to have some very hard choices to make in 2021 when it’s time to redraw the lines.

And by the way, this lesson about not being too greedy is one they should have learned in the last decade. In 2001, they drew the six legislative districts in Travis County to be three Ds and three Rs. By 2008, all six districts were in Democratic hands. The Republicans won HD47 back in the 2010 wave, and the map they drew this time around left it at 5-1 for the Dems. Of course, they lost HD47 last week too, so maybe the lesson is that the big urban areas are just unrelentingly hostile to them. Not a very useful lesson, I suppose, but not my problem.

Anyway. Here were the top legislative targets for 2018 that I identified last cycle. Let’s do an update on that:


Dist  Clinton% Burns%  Dem18%  Rep18%
=====================================
105     52.1%   49.0%   54.7%   45.3%
113     49.1%   46.4%   53.5%   46.5%
115     51.5%   45.8%   56.7%   43.3%
134     54.7%   45.4%   46.8%   53.2%
102     52.3%   45.3%   52.8%   47.2%
043     43.6%   44.3%   38.9%   61.1%
112     48.3%   43.9%   48.9%   51.1%
135     46.6%   43.7%   50.8%   47.7%
138     47.6%   43.6%   49.9%   50.1%
114     52.1%   43.3%   55.6%   44.4%
132     45.5%   42.7%   49.2%   49.1%
136     46.7%   42.7%   53.3%   43.8%
065     46.1%   42.4%   51.1%   48.9%
052     45.3%   42.2%   51.7%   48.3%
054     43.6%   42.0%   46.2%   53.8%
045     44.2%   41.7%   51.6%   48.4%
026     45.5%   41.0%   47.5%   52.5%
047     46.5%   40.5%   52.3%   47.7%
126     42.7%   39.8%   45.2%   54.8%
108     50.3%   39.6%   49.7%   50.3%
066     45.5%   39.5%   49.7%   50.3%
067     43.9%   38.9%   48.9%   51.1%
097     42.1%   38.5%   47.2%   50.9%
121     42.7%   38.0%   44.7%   53.2%

“Clinton%” is the share of the vote Hillary Clinton got in the district in 2016, while “Burns%” is the same for Court of Criminal Appeals candidate Robert Burns. I used the latter as my proxy for the partisan ratio in a district, as Clinton had picked up crossover votes and thus in my mind made things look better for Dems than perhaps they really were. As you can see from the “Dem18% and “Rep18%” values, which are the percentages the State Rep candidates got this year, I was overly pessimistic. I figured the potential was there for growth, and hoped that people who avoided Trump could be persuaded, but I did not expect this much success. Obviously Beto was a factor as well, but it’s not like Republicans didn’t vote. They just had nowhere near the cushion they were accustomed to having, and it showed in the results.

All 12 pickups came from this group, and there remain a few key opportunities for 2020, starting with HDs 138, 54, 26, 66, and 67. I’d remove HD43, which is moving in the wrong direction, and HD134 continues to be in a class by itself, but there are other places to look. What’s more, we can consider a few districts that weren’t on the radar this year to be in play for 2020:


Dist  Clinton% Burns%  Dem18%  Rep18%
=====================================
014     38.1%   34.7%   43.6%   56.4%
023     40.7%   40.5%   41.1%   56.8%
028     42.7%   38.9%   45.8%   54.2%
029     41.0%   38.9%   
032     41.9%   39.5%
064     39.5%   37.4%   44.5%   52.8%
070     32.2%   28.8%   38.2%   61.8%
084     34.8%   32.1%   39.8%   60.2%
085     40.9%   39.7%   43.5%   46.5%
089     35.4%   32.1%   40.4%   59.6%
092     40.2%   37.9%   47.4%   49.8%
093     40.0%   37.5%   46.1%   53.9%
094     40.5%   37.7%   43.9%   52.5%
096     42.3%   40.6%   47.2%   50.9%
129     39.8%   36.3%   41.8%   56.5%
150     36.3%   33.5%   42.2%   57.8%

Dems did not field a candidate in HD32 (Nueces County), and while we had a candidate run and win in the primary in HD29 (Brazoria County), he must have withdrawn because there’s no Dem listed on the SOS results page. Obviously, some of these are reaches, but given how much some of the districts above shifted in a Dem direction, I’d want to see it be a priority to get good candidates in all of them, and find the funds to help them run robust campaigns.

Two other points to note. One is that the number of LGBTQ members of the House went from two (Reps. Mary Gonzalez and Celia Israel) to five in this election, as Reps-elect Erin Zwiener, Jessica Gonzalez, and Julie Johnson join them. We just missed adding one to the Senate as Mark Phariss lost by two points to Angela Paxton. Other LGBTQ candidates won other races around the state, and that list at the bottom of the article omits at least one I know of, my friend and former blogging colleague KT Musselman in Williamson County.

And on a related note, the number of Anglo Democrats, a subject that gets discussed from time to time, has more than tripled, going from six to seventeen. We began with Sens. Kirk Watson and John Whitmire, and Reps. Donna Howard, Joe Pickett, Tracy King, and Chris Turner, and to them we add Sens-elect Beverly Powell and Nathan Johnson, and Reps-elect Erin Zwiener, Vikki Goodwin, James Talarico, Michelle Beckley, John Turner, Julie Johnson, Gina Calanni, Jon Rosenthal, and John Bucy. You can make of that what you want, I’m just noting it for the record.

UPDATE: As noted in the comments, added Rep. Tracy King to the list of Anglo Dems.