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Sue Schechter

The effect of ballot order on the judicial races

I’m going to have something tomorrow about how the different endorsing groups did in the various Democratic judicial primaries, but before we get too deep into the weeds, let’s pause to consider the effect of ballot position. Two candidates filed a lawsuit after the HCDP mistakenly listed them second, so it is certainly perceived to have an effect on races. Did being listed first on the ballot in a judicial race correlate with winning?

The results can be seen here, and the short answer is Yes and No, and the determining factor appears to be what kind of bench you were pursuing. In the District Court races – Criminal, Civil, Family, and Juvenile – it was actually a distinct disadvantage to go first. Of the 18 such races, by my count the first candidate won four times, lost twelve, and made it to a runoff twice. Frankly, that result shocked me at first, but I think what it points out is that in these races, other factors were more important. For one thing, the District Court races appeared fairly early in the ballot, presumably before most people’s attention spans started to wane. For another, this was where the money was. I don’t know about you, but I got a blizzard of mail from District Court candidates and from endorsing groups on their behalf. I even saw a TV ad towards the end for one candidate, Shawn Thierry. As such, I think these races were sufficiently high profile that people were mostly choosing names with which they had some familiarity, and because of that the ballot position factor was minimized.

The reverse was true in the County Court and Probate Court races. Of those twelve contests, the winner was the first candidate nine times. Further, of those nine winners, six exceeded 60% of the vote, with three topping 70%; two of the remaining three scored over 59%, while the last one was winning a three-candidate race. None of the three winning candidates who were listed second got as much as 52% of the vote. Among them was Dennis Slate, who was one of the plaintiffs against HCDP. These races were farther down on the ballot – after all of the District Court races, in particular – and had much less money in them. I think I may have gotten a mailer or two from these candidates, but it certainly wasn’t much; being listed in an endorsing organization’s slate was probably the most exposure a lot of them got. If ballot order can have an effect, these are the races where you would expect it to happen, and based on these results, it’s hard to argue with the idea. I’ll say it again: We really need the next generation of eSlate machines to be able to randomize ballot order. It’s just wrong that such a silly thing could affect the outcome of an election, but it sure seems like it did.

Speaking of such things, the race immediately after all of these judicial contests was the County Clerk race. Sure enough, Ann Harris Bennett was listed first, and sure enough, she cruised to an easy win. I’ve heard it suggested that Bennett, who is African-American, won on the strength of turnout in the African-American State Rep districts. Having analyzed the draft canvass data, I can tell you that she did in fact do very well in those districts, but that wasn’t determinative. If you simply remove HDs 131, 139, 141, 142, 146, and 147, Bennett still defeated Sue Schechter by about 5,000 votes, and that’s with Schechter piling up a 2,800-vote margin in her old stomping grounds of HD134. If people thought Schechter’s name was enough for her to win, they were wrong. Besides HD134, the only districts she won were HDs 136, 138, and 148 – basically, all Inner Loop areas, where she was best known. Let this be a lesson for us all.

Election results: Harris County

It was a bad day to be the establishment candidate for Harris County Clerk, let me tell you. Ann Harris Bennett crushed Sue Schechter for the Democratic nomination, winning with 63% of the vote. On the Republican side, wingnut Stan Stanart, who lost a 2008 race for the HCDE Board of Trustees after taking out a mainstream incumbent in that primary, won over 60% of the vote against Beverly Kaufmann’s hand-picked successor, Kevin Mauzy. Look for some scrambling to occur in both parties. I confess, I did not get to know Ms. Bennett, and did not see her victory coming. My bad on that one.

Meanwhile, Harris County Tax Assessor Leo Vasquez suffered the same fate as Victor Carrillo.

Don Sumners won the Republican nomination for county tax assessor-collector Tuesday, ousting incumbent Leo Vasquez on his promises to continue the anti-tax crusade that characterized his tenure as county treasurer in the 1990s.

Sumners campaigned on a slogan of “I was Tea Party before Tea Party was cool.”

As treasurer, he publicly criticized Commissioners Court for increasing the tax rate and was an outspoken opponent of a bond measure that approved hotel and car rental taxes to fund football, basketball and baseball stadiums.

Summers will face Diane Trautman. Let’s just say that these are two races I’d really like for the Democrats to win. Elsewhere, Gordon Quan won a convincing victory in the Democratic primary for County Judge, and Republican Chris Daniel won the nomination for District Clerk for the right to face extremely well-qualified Democratic incumbent Loren Jackson.

I’ll try to sort out the judicial races later. The other big result in Harris County was Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee winning easily in her primary.

As of late Tuesday, the veteran lawmaker had about 68 percent of the vote, fending off a challenge by [City Council Member Jarvis] Johnson that featured claims that Jackson Lee’s showboating style had impaired her ability to deliver for her hard-pressed inner city district.

Jackson Lee also defeated a political newcomer, Houston attorney Sean Roberts. Votes counted as of 10:30 p.m, showed she likely would face GOP challenger John Faulk, an accountant, in the predominantly Democratic district.

“The job is not finished. We promise you a fight in Washington to bring good health care to this district and to preserve NASA and the jobs that are ours,” Jackson Lee told supporters Tuesday night.

Faulk does appear to be the GOP winner. For purposes of comparison, there were 9,105 total votes cast in the GOP primary for CD18. Johnson collected 9,073 by himself in getting 28.33% against SJL.

In other Congressional news, we will have Roy Morales to kick around for a few more months, as the man who never met an election he didn’t like won the nomination in CD29 in a five-person field. He gets to be stomped by Rep. Gene Green in November before he decides what city race to pick for 2011.

Finally, Harris County GOP Chair Jared Woodfill is in a runoff with Ed Hubbard. That’ll be fun to watch.

Endorsement watch: Chron goes for Miles

I’m glad to see this.

Based on their comparative records over the past two legislative sessions, we believe [Borris] Miles would better deal with the enormous social service and infrastructure needs of [HD146].

Miles, who was born in the district, built one of the largest African-American-owned insurance agencies in the nation. As a businessman he has already played a key role in revitalizing two city blocks of retail property in his community and wants to bring similar upgrades to other areas as well.


Miles’ proven business acumen and leadership abilities make him the better-qualified candidate of the two. We urge Democratic primary voters to return him to the Legislature.

In terms of accomplishments, it’s not close. Miles did more in his one term than Edwards has done in his last half dozen or more. For all Edwards’ talk about seniority, I can’t think of a single bill he was a player on last year. If you want to get stuff done, Miles is the clear choice.

In other endorsement news, the Chron endorsed Sue Schechter for County Clerk, and went with the appointed incumbent and the hand-picked successor on the GOP side in the tax Assessor and County Clerk races.

Interview with Sue Schechter

Sue Schechter

Sue Schechter

Next up in the primary interview series is Sue Schechter, who is running for Harris County Clerk. Schechter is an attorney and a political veteran who served two terms as a State Representative and was the chair of the Harris County Democratic Party prior to Gerry Birnberg. This Examiner story from November has a good capsule summary of her career. Here’s the interview:

Download the MP3 file

As a reminder, all prior interviews, as well as judicial Q&As, can be found on the 2010 Election page.

Sue Schechter announces for County Clerk

Former State Rep. and Harris County Democratic Party Chair Sue Schechter has announced her intent to run for the to-be-open Harris County Clerk position next year. Schechter was known to be interested in this position, and now she’s made it official. I’ve reprinted her press release beneath the fold, to which I’ll add two observations. One is that she’s already lined up a decent amount of support for her candidacy – there are a lot of elected officials and other heavy hitters in her list of who’s with her. And two, the timing of all this has been just awful for Council Member Sue Lovell, whose interest in the Clerk’s office is longstanding, as Lovell is engaged in a runoff for her Council seat that won’t be resolved until a week after the filing period opens. Will these things deter her from running? Hard to say. As for the Republican side of things, incumbent Clerk Beverly Kaufman has made no bones about whom she would like to see succeed her, though her man Kevin Mauzy will almost certainly not go unchallenged. It’ll be fun to watch, that’s for sure. Click on for Schechter’s release.


Today the HCDE, tomorrow the world!

Remember those Cy-Fair school board candidates I mentioned last week? Turns out they each have Facebook groups supporting their candidacies. A brief look at them reveals a couple of interesting things. One is that spelling, or at least spell-checking, is not a high priority. From Willie Wright’s group’s description:

The incumbent has also voted in recent years to raise property taxes in Cy-Fair and the incumbent also supported the building of the collosal Berry Center, also known as the Cy-Fair Taj Mahal or Ceasar’s Palace.

And from Bill Morris’ group’s description:

Additionally, as a GOP Precinct Chairman, Bill knows the importance of being a Conservtaive Republican voter, unlike the incumbent in this race who voted in the 2008 Democrat Primary.

Does the TAKS test include a spelling component? I’m just asking.

And two, these groups were both created by our old friend HCDE Trustee Michael Wolfe. Good to know Wolfe’s famous attention to detail isn’t just limited to his work with the Department of Education. Now, I don’t know what Wolfe’s involvement in these races is – it may be nothing more than setting up Facebook groups as part of the local GOP’s social media outreach program. But I do know that Wolfe tried to increase his influence on the HCDE by supporting a couple of far-right candidates in the 2008 primary; they won that battle, knocking off more moderate GOP incumbents, but thankfully lost in November to the much more qualified Debra Kerner and Jim Henley. And I do know that one of those Wolfe-backed candidates, Stan Stanart, is also in these groups and has apparently announced his intention to run for the to-be-open position of Harris County Clerk. (Former State Rep. and HCDP Chair Sue Schechter has announced her interest on the Democratic side.) Finally, I do know that I’d prefer less Michael Wolfe in my government, not more. So if you live in the Cy-Fair ISD, please be aware of who’s running for these offices, and please vote accordingly. That goes for the Alief ISD as well, about which I’ll have more to say shortly. Thanks.

Bradford announces for At Large #4, Pennington announces in G

We know he had been contemplating the possibility, but now former HPD Chief C.O. Bradford has made it official: He’s going to run for the open At Large #4 City Council seat. From his email:

Chief Bradford has been a resident of the city of Houston since 1979. He has lived in the Hiram Clarke, Alief, Fondren Southwest, and MacGregor areas. He understands the various characteristics of the Houston community and appreciates the efforts to focus on neighborhood needs.

Bradford served 24 years as a Houston Police officer and seven years as Chief of Police. He was appointed Houston’s Police Chief by Mayor Bob Lanier and re-appointed by Mayor Lee Brown. He is an attorney and public safety consultant with degrees in law from the University of Houston Law Center, criminal justice from Grambling State University, and a public administration degree from Texas Southern University. Also, Chief Bradford is a graduate of the FBI Academy and Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government Program for State and Local Executives.

“It is certainly an honor to serve in the public sector. Making a difference for the greater good of all is a tremendous reward. As Houston moves forward, we must get better prepared to deal with issues such as public safety, budget restraints, critical infrastructure repairs, representation via council redistricting and many others.” stated Bradford. “After careful consideration, I am most honored to be asked by so many friends, supporters, and family to run for Houston City Council. I will utilize my experience, training, and education to help improve the quality of life in this wonderful community, Houston, Texas.”

Noel Freeman is already in the running for this seat. I hold Chief Bradford in high regard, and I really admired the campaign he ran for District Attorney and the issues he emphasized in that race. I think he’d make a fine Council member. Having said that, Noel asked for my support awhile back, and I promised it to him. I did that, of course, because I think he’ll make a fine Council member as well, so my decision is clear. If I were starting out at this point, it would be a lot harder. But it’s a choice between good options, and you can’t ask for more than that.

Meanwhile, Oliver Pennington, who first came to my attention as a potential candidate for District G a month ago, has made his formal announcement as well. Here’s his email:

Houston municipal and environmental attorney Oliver Pennington announced today that he will seek the Houston City Council District G seat that is being vacated by Councilmember Pam Holm due to term limits. Pennington said “I believe I can make a positive difference for residents and business owners in District G. I will use my experience to secure funding for needed neighborhood and regional public works and crime prevention projects. I will help residents unravel the complex city regulations affecting neighborhoods such as those for traffic control and neighborhood protection.”

Pennington has designated District G community leader Penny Butler as his Campaign Treasurer and the Honorable Chase Untermeyer, recent Ambassador to Qatar, as the Campaign’s Chair.

Pennington received his B.A. from Rice University in 1960 and his J.D. from the University of Texas in 1963 where he was an Associate Editor of the law review. After graduation he joined the law firm Fulbright & Jaworski in 1963 as an associate and became a Partner in 1973 practicing municipal finance, municipal law, municipal utility district law, environmental and administrative law. In 2002 he became Of Counsel to the firm.

Pennington is former Chairman of the Houston Civil Service Commission. He was a member of Board of the Memorial Park Conservancy for five years, which is in the heart of District G. He is also a member of the Houston and Texas State Bar Associations. He is a member of the Greater Houston Partnership where he is or has been a member of the Water Laws Committee and the Environmental Committee and the Economic Development Committee. Pennington was also a member of the Board of Directors of North Houston Association, a trade group advocating public policy and economic development policies favorable to that area.

Pennington’s campaign will focus on improving the Quality of Life for residents, reducing taxes and eliminating waste at City Hall, improving infrastructure, safety and parks. Pennington said “I will forge coalitions with other council members and will work with the Mayor to insure that the City government works more efficiently for District G.”

Pennington is a native Houstonian and has lived in District G for almost 40 years with his wife Beverly; together they have raised and educated two children in the district. They have 5 grandchildren.

For more information visit the campaign’s web site at

I know HCC Trustee Mills Worsham is also running in G, but I’ve not received any formal word on his campaign’s status.

Still no sign of a candidate for At Large #1. I can say that Sue Schecter will not be in the running, based on an email I got from her, and she was the only one I’d heard of up till now. Anybody else out there hearing anything?

Brown’s announcement coming

From the Peter Brown campaign.

At-Large City Council Member Peter Brown will formally announce his candidacy for Mayor of Houston

Thursday, February 26, 2009
Program starts at noon.

Houston Garden Center
( across from Miller Theatre, next to the Natural Science Museum)
1500 Hermann Drive
Houston, TX 77004

Parking available in front.
Light lunch will be served.

For questions, please contact our office at 713.528.0049 or
[email protected]

Also noted by Houston Politics. I assume that once this happens, we will start to see some more formal interest in his Council seat. The only potential candidate of which I am aware is Sue Schecter. Bill King and Roy Morales had once been thought to be interested in that seat, but King has taken his ball and gone home, while Morales is running for Mayor, at least at this time. Perhaps a candidate will emerge from today’s Latino Summit, for which Peter Brown is one of the sponsors.