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Rosenberg

Early voting so far

The Chron looks at the first day of early voting and some area races.

Early voting began Monday for local elections next month that will determine who leads increasingly diverse Pasadena, the fate of a major school bond referendum in League City and whether Houston’s largest school district pays tens of millions to the state to comply with a controversial policy and avoid a potentially bigger financial hit.

Across Harris County, 1,153 voters turned out Monday for the elections, figures show. They included many who live within the Houston Independent School District and voted for a second time on “recapture,” a process through which so-called property tax-wealthy school districts pay the state to help fund districts that collect less.

[…]

Two candidates, Bill Benton and Edmund Samora, are seeking to unseat Rosenberg Mayor Cynthia McConathy, who stirred debate last year after sending an email to city employees inviting them to participate in prayer at the start of the new year. Richmond Mayor Evalyn Moore has been serving in her post since the 2012 death of her husband, Hilmar Moore, who had been the city’s mayor for 63 years. She now faces Tres Davis, who is running what an online fundraiser calls a “People’s Campaign.”

Meanwhile, in Stafford, longtime Mayor Leonard Scarcella, who has held his seat since 1969, is running unopposed.

Sugar Land has only one contested seat: that to fill the position of Harish Jajoo, a city councilman who ran unsuccessfully in 2016 to be the city’s first South Asian mayor. He chose not to seek re-election as a councilman.

Of note among school district trustee races, Lamar Consolidated ISD’s Anna Gonzales, who was indicted on charges related to bribery in a case that was dismissed last year, faces an opponent in Joe Hubenak, the son of the late state representative and LCISD board member by the same name.

In Brazoria County, Pearland voters are heading to the polls to vote for mayor, City Council and school trustees. A letter from a real estate agent denouncing “liberal gay rights Democrats” trying to take over the city and school board elections there – which are nonpartisan – drew ire from many progressive groups, as well as longtime Mayor Tom Reid and two other candidates endorsed by the letter.

In Clear Creek ISD, the district is asking voters to approve a $487 million bond that officials say is needed to build new schools and keep up with growing student populations. But conservative groups are concerned that the bond’s steep price tag includes too many unnecessary frills, such as $13.7 million to renovate Clear Creek High School’s auditorium.

Consternation over the bond has set up a showdown between two warring political action committees, or PACs, which have spread from national races down to municipal races and local bond referenda.

The Harris County Clerk is sending out its daily EV reports as usual, with a new feature this time – they are posting that report online, which you can find here. As that is a generic URL, I presume it will simply be updated each day, so be sure to hit Refresh if you’re going back at a later date. The vast majority of the vote in the usual places should be for the HISD recapture referendum. There’s no way to tell how many of the mail ballots are for that and how many are for the other races. I may venture some guesses at overall turnout later in the process, but for now I’m just going to shrug and say this is all too new and unprecedented to make anything resembling an educated guess. Have you voted yet (I have not yet), and if so how are you voting on the HISD issue, if that’s on your ballot?

Morrison’s challenge

I often said last year that I wanted to get through the 2014 elections before worrying too much about the 2015 ones. I feel the same way this year, and thus don’t plan to spend much time writing about 2016 elections. But some stories are too important not to comment on, and this is one of them.

Richard Morrison

Richard Morrison

Rosenberg Mayor Vincent M. Morales Jr. announced on Jan. 29 that he’s running for Precinct 1 Fort Bend County commissioner.

Incumbent Precinct 1 Commissioner Richard Morrison said he intends to run for re-election in 2016. The Democrat first won election to the position in November 2008.

In announcing his run for commissioner, Morales, in his second term as mayor of Rosenberg, cited his desire to continue his service in a greater capacity.

“My work for Rosenberg is not done; it has only just begun,” said Morales, who will run for county office as a Republican. “By serving as Precinct 1 commissioner, I can continue my focus on economic development and vital infrastructure on a larger scale. I am committed to making certain that our community will be a viable place to live, work and educate our children and grandchildren for years to come, and by serving as Precinct 1 commissioner, I can do just that.”

In his second term in office, Morrison said, “I’ve accomplished a lot.

“I’ve extended, widened and built a lot of roads in Precinct 1. I fought to make sure local contractors and businesses get Fort Bend County construction projects. I’ve done the best I can, along with other members of court, to run a very lean county government, so taxpayers get the most bang for their buck.”

Richard Morrison has long been one of my favorite people in politics. He hit the scene in 2004 when he ran a scrappy, underdog campaign against Tom DeLay in CD22; the interview I did with him in December of 2003 is the first I ever did for this blog. He took on the County Commissioner’s race in 2008, flipping the Republican seat by siding with locals who were unhappy with a proposed toll road in the area and winning large numbers of crossover votes in his home turf, the heavily Republican Greatwood development. He won re-election in 2012 against an opponent who was disavowed by the Fort Bend GOP after evidence surfaced that he had voted twice in an earlier election, once in Texas and once in Virginia.

The challenge is that Fort Bend Commissioners Precinct 1 has a decided Republican tilt. I pieced together precinct information from the Fort Bend election results page, and this is how it looked in the two races Morrison won.

2008 Candidate Votes Pct ========================= Straight R 14,414 Straight D 14,246 McCain 23,902 54.27 Obama 20,137 45.73 Shoemaker 23,059 54.21 Hollan 19,478 45.79 Ordeneaux 21,191 49.12 Morrison 21,948 50.88 2008 Candidate Votes Pct ========================= Straight R 18,843 Straight D 15,124 Romney 26,762 56.60 Obama 20,521 43.40 Mullinix 26,768 57.50 Petry 19,784 42.50 Fleming 22,970 49.26 Morrison 23,661 50.74

The second race in each listing above is a District Court race, which I included as a measure of the non-Presidential dropoff; as you can see, that was greater on the D side and thus was another obstacle for Morrison to overcome. In 2012, the base Republican vote grew by about 3,000 over 2008, while the Dem baseline remained the same. Morrison swung about 2,000 votes in 2008, nearly all coming from six Greatwood precincts, and he swung over 3,000 votes in 2012, outperforming other Dems in just about every box while again dominating his back yard.

The main danger for Morrison is that Morales, a successful politician in his own right, will represent a safe choice for Morrison’s Republican friends in Greatwood and elsewhere to vote for, much as Sarah Davis was for Ellen Cohen’s crossovers in 2010. I’m not sufficiently plugged in to Fort Bend politics to know how good a job Morales did in Rosenberg or how much appeal he’ll have overall, but he only needs to get a few of those wayward Republican Morrison backers to come home in order to win. Morrison, who can win on the strength of Greatwood alone if countywide D turnout is good enough, needs to vigorously defend his home turf while working to boost his party’s numbers elsewhere. It won’t be easy, but it is doable. Whether Battleground Texas is a factor next year or not, this is exactly the kind of small ball that we should be playing. You want a local race to invest in for 2016, this one should be high on your list.

Commuter rail status

There’s still a push for commuter rail in Houston.

HoustonCommuterRailOptions

With freight trains on Houston area tracks teeming with cargo, supporters of commuter rail to the suburbs are focusing on three spots where they can potentially build their own lines for passengers.

The Gulf Coast Rail District – created in part to find a way to make commuter rail work in Houston – is studying three possible routes for large passenger trains.

What’s clear, at least for the near future, is that commuter trains will not share any track with local freight railroads, or buy any of their land.

“There is a lot of freight moving through the region because of all the new business, and the freight carriers are trying to meet the demand for that,” said Maureen Crocker, executive director of the rail district. “They are not willing to discuss the use of their rail for passenger rail operations.”

[…]

Without access to the freight lines, Crocker said, commuter rail must find its own way. Focusing on land owned by local governments or the state, and near current freight lines, officials identified three possible routes for study: along U.S. 290, U.S. 90A and the Westpark corridor.

The plan is to further study all three, looking at how much ridership they could expect while analyzing the type of property that would have to be purchased, engineering challenges and costly factors such as bridges.

Each of the routes includes some easily obtainable land and could connect suburban commuters to the city. The goal would be to develop commuter rail from the suburbs to Loop 610 – or farther into the central city under some scenarios – and connect it to local transit.

Both the Westpark corridor and U.S. 290 offer close access from western or northwestern suburbs to The Galleria and Uptown areas, where a single bus or light rail trip could carry travelers from a train station to their final destination. The U.S. 90A corridor, which Metro has studied before, offers access from the southwest to the Texas Medical Center.

Developing rail along any of the corridors would pose many challenges. In the case of the Westpark and U.S. 290 routes, both would abut local roads, meaning ramps and entrances would have to undergo serious changes. Other projects, such as light rail and toll roads, also are being considered for the space.

The terrain poses challenges as well. A U.S. 90A commuter rail system would need to cross the Brazos River and would pass by the southern tip of Sugar Land Regional Airport.

“There are challenges out in Fort Bend County,” Crocker said. “But the demand is so high we would like to take another look at it.”

To me, US90A is the clear first choice. I’ve been advocating for Metro to turn its attention back to what it calls the US90A Southwest Rail Corridor (SWRC). As recently as two years ago, they were holding open houses to get community support and finish up a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), which would put them and that project in the queue for federal funds. Unfortunately, as of September of 2012, the plans are on hold. I would hope it wouldn’t be too difficult to revive that process, in partnership with the GCRD. Note that while Metro’s original plan for the SWRC stopped at Missouri City, just across the Fort Bend County line, while the GCRD plan goes all the way to Rosenberg. The latter would clearly have much greater ridership potential, and would include destinations that would be of interest outside the regular commute, such as the airport and Skeeters Field. You only get to do this sort of thing right the first time, so it would be best to plan to maximize ridership from the beginning.

As for the other two, it must be noted that the corridors in question are already fairly well served by Metro park and ride. There’s some overlap with the US90A corridor, but not as much. Both Westpark and US90A continue well into Fort Bend County and thus beyond Metro’s existing service area, so I suppose the Westpark corridor would be the next best choice for commuter rail. The other key factor at play here is that the US90A line would connect up with the existing Main Street Line, thus potentially carrying people all the way from Rosenberg and elsewhere in Fort Bend to the Medical Center, downtown, and beyond. The 290 corridor will at least have the Uptown BRT line available to it as a connection, and if it were to happen it might revive discussion of the Inner Katy Line for a seamless trip into downtown via Washington Avenue. As for Westpark, well, go tell it to John Culberson. You know what we’d need to make any Westpark commuter rail line the best it could be. Anything the GCRD can do about that would be good for all of us.