Category Archives: Harris County

The Reality of Vaccines and Reopenings

I’ve been reading about reopenings of various industries and many industry leaders point to “local authorities” as their benchmark for how they will roll-out any reopening. Of course, what precautions are put in place to protect workers  and how effective those protections will be is up to those industries

Harris County has a color code at which we are currently at RED and it is safe to say that many industries are looking forward to ORANGE as the mark to begin phases for increased employees on-site.

To get to ORANGE, Harris County would need to have 14 days each of flat or decreasing rates of:  new COVID19 cases; COVID19-related hospitalizations; COVID19 ICU admits; and fewer than 15% of general and ICU beds in use. To get from ORANGE to YELLOW, it would take continued decreases at similar rates, as well as widespread deployment of a vaccine or treatment for COVID19.

It’s safe to say that it may take a while to get back to ORANGE, as changes in personal responsibility (behaviors) and public policy (Abbott/Trump) are still a work in progress (or in digging a deeper hole). It may take more death and infection to convince people and leaders to adapt, unfortunately. Still, it would seem that some sort of comfort in reopening would be found at YELLOW. Certainly, reopening at YELLOW would give the impression that an industry actually cares about their employees, instead of the crap-shoot at ORANGE.

While Trump and his minions and some in the science community are selling us on the development of a COVID-19 vaccine and that one may be ready as early as October, 2020 (to December, 2020), there are others being a bit more honest about vaccine development and the eventual issues in efficacy, production, and roll-out.

I read a lengthy report by management consulting firm McKinsey that brought all the information out there together to explain the reality. Carolyn Johnson at the Washington Post had a lengthy article, too. For all the attempt at excitement by Trump and his minions, the bottom line is that it is going to be a lot more challenging than what he’s selling. Here are a few of those challenges:

  • More than 50 vaccine candidates are expected to enter human trials in 2020, and 250 total vaccine candidates are being pursued. Historical attrition rates would suggest that such a pipeline could yield more than seven approved products over the next few years.
  • A number of hurdles remain, including validating unproven platform technologies, demonstrating vaccine candidates’ safety and protection against COVID-19, and delivering the highest-impact vaccine profiles.
  • Regulatory bodies are still finalizing guidelines for COVID-19 vaccines.
  • Vaccine manufacturers have announced cumulative capacity that could produce as many as one billion doses by the end of 2020 and nine billion doses by the end of 2021. [Note:  FDA has set a benchmark of 50% effectiveness to approve a vaccine.]

As the post article mentions, how effective the initial vaccines that are approved really are will influence how much buy-in by consumers there will be. And, as previous vaccines in US history have shown, it has taken a few years for some vaccines to reach a trusted level of efficacy. We are also reminded:

Even the word “effective” will be parsed by experts and may need to be carefully explained. The goal is for a vaccine to prevent infections altogether. But that’s not the only definition of a successful vaccine, which could also include shots that reduce the severity of symptoms people experience. Ideally, a vaccine would do both. But what happens in real life will influence decisions about who should get the vaccine first.

Mark Mulligan of the New York Langone Vaccine Center (quoted in the Post) states that

he believes people should view vaccines in much the same way they have regarded reopening — as something that must occur in gradual phases to be safe and could even double back on itself as we learn more. Governments and companies are investing billions of dollars to ramp up the vaccine supply now, but even so, it won’t be possible to vaccinate everyone in the first week or even the first month after the first vaccine becomes available. The world will become safer, bit by bit, not all at once.

And even when there is a vaccine, what will be the priority list? As the Post article reminds us, it wasn’t until Trump and famous people (athletes) were shown to have easy access to almost daily COVID-19 testing that people began to see how people are prioritized in this country. When the upper crust is prioritized, it would seem that the rest of us start to care less while forgetting that there are more of us who should be demanding change.

No doubt, we need more than just the vaccine to make all of this work. Along with a longer term shut-down to flatten the curve, more testing is needed as well as sped-up results, effective contact tracing (and COVID-19 patients willing to cooperate with tracers to inform those they may have exposed), and the development of accessible and affordable therapeutics and treatment to help those who are infected get beyond the infection. All of this must be buttressed by access to health care and an economic stimulus that keeps people fed and housed, rather than enriching corporations. Without all of these components in place, reopenings deemed safe will only be a farce.

It is getting more difficult to have faith that we will get beyond this with less people affected because political and industry leaders seem to miss the point that much like people were expected to adapt to change (masks and self distancing) of their own volition, politics and industry needed to similarly adapt for the long-term. Because of a thirst for profit and political power, taking on COVID-19 has been a dismal failure for most, but quite profitable for a few. Again, I remind all of how people (and even businesses) are prioritized during these times.

So, stay home as much as possible, and if you need to go somewhere, wear a mask, wash hands, and physically distance from everyone. The rest is up to those we put in charge and how willing they are to risk your life for political power and profit.

 

An Elections Administrator for Harris County

The County Commissioners voted 3-2 to enact the position of elections administrator to run all voting operations, including voter registration. In doing so, they strip these duties from the county clerk and the tax assessor-collector to create what is called an independent, non-partisan office.

As I mentioned when this was first discussed:

…nothing wrong with a discussion.

It seems they decided to forgo any lengthy discussion and just create the position while an ongoing study is had on creating the position. The hiring of the administrator would not happen until after the 2020 election, so, the interim County Clerk Chris Hollins would still run the November election.

And as I’ve stated, I don’t have too much of a problem with having an elections administrator. As Kuff reminds us, other big counties have had one for a while and it seems to work. And, no doubt, each side of the debate gave good arguments that have much to do with history of the current system versus the politics of putting into office good people so that history isn’t repeated.

I agree with former County Clerk Diane Trautman that lengthy discussions should be had. At the same time, change after years of Republican rule can only happen in quick instances if we want change to actually happen. Of course, that’s my argument against police reform committees when the leadership exists to exert change in an instant. I guess I just want some consistency.

Ultimately, the people elected the Democratic majority to do what they think is right. I mean, I don’t like how a couple of the commissioners exerted their influence and money into the race for County Commissioner Pct 3 from their own fiefdoms, thus allowing them to pick their co-workers on the court, but I guess it’s allowed. So, this majority will get to pick the election administrator.

What’s done is done. My hope is that there will be a national search to bring in the best election administrator possible that has run the best, seamless and accessible elections (everything Commissioner Ellis said wasn’t happening in the current system). Or has the appointment already been decided?

Anyway, that’s politics. Even when creating nonpartisan positions.

 

 

 

The Dem Primary Run-Off Results

As far as Texas Democrats are concerned, I’m sure we are all glad it’s [almost] over. For DC, well, it wasn’t the best night for those I supported. Still, it’s on to November like the good little Democrat I try to be.

Royce West’s campaign against the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee (and MJ Hegar) fell short, but I sure am proud of my friends who worked on West’s campaign and came up with a respectable result against the odds and the DC cash. We shall see what kind of campaign is run against Cornyn, now. Issues? Trump? Both? Will the DSCC even stick around? Questions that must be asked and answered, and now.

Family friend and fellow Cristaleño, Roberto Alonzo, gave it a go for Texas RR Commish, but it was obvious that Chrysta Castañeda was too much to overpower in the big cities. Still, we are proud of Roberto and the whole Alonzo family because they just don’t give up when it comes to the issues that matter.

Michelle Palmer cruised to victory in her race for SBOE-6, as did Te’iva Bell for the 339th District Court. Judge Alexandra Smoots-Thomas was soundly defeated by Cheryl Elliot Thornton for the 164th. Thornton is well-qualified and will be impressive in November. Cheri Thomas came up short for one of the appellate court seats against Tami Craft, but she is a great candidate who should remain in the game for future consideration. And Mark Alan Harrison is on his way to November in his run for Constable Pct 5.

Diana Martinez Alexander ran a great grassroots race for County Commissioner Pct 3 against big money and influence. I’ll still give her credit for being the only candidate in the running to shake my hand when asking for votes at one event I attended with most of the candidates in attendance. After doing some campaign finance sleuthing and seeing how she was outspent, and considering the final result, I must say that I am quite impressed with what she accomplished. She’s another one that should stay in the game because her activism will be an asset to Democrats up and down the ballot.

The race that was the most interesting was Texas House 148 with Penny Shaw and incumbent Anna Eastman, who won a special election to replace retiring Jessica Farrar earlier this year. No doubt, Eastman has said the right things on most issues important to Democrats, but it was Penny Shaw who may have gotten a late boost because of the policy differences she had with Eastman on public education and the out-of-town PACs that filled Eastman’s campaign coffers. It always seems to be the difference in these races–Teacher Unions -vs- Big Charter School Money. In this case, it was the union-supported Penny Shaw winning the early voting period and election day to put her over the top. While one side blames “negative campaigning,” it really was all about who turned out the most votes from their targeted base. I mean, c’mon, it was 200 votes difference. In non-COVID times, that would be a candidate attending a quince in the northside as the difference. As this is a Democratic district, Shaw will likely win in November.

Akilah Bacy cruised in HD138 and it seems incumbent State Rep Harold Dutton will squeeze by to another term. Incumbent Constable Chris Diaz was unseated by Jerry Garcia by less than 300 votes. Again, whomever turns out their base wins, no matter how negative it gets.

Big wins elsewhere include Dr. Jennifer Cantu for Fort Bend County Commish Pct 1, Delia Garza for Travis County Attorney, Jose Garza for Travis County DA, and Candace Valenzuela for Congressional District 24.

In Austin, it looks like State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez and former Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt will be in a run-off later this fall for Senate District 14. While this special election brought out Republicans to support their own, it’ll be interesting to see which candidate Republicans choose as their candidate. It could be the difference in the race if Republicans decide to even come out.

It’s been real, y’all. Let’s win in November!

We Need A Vote-at-Home Order from Abbott

Well, it’s nice that Greg Abbott has finally decided to order everyone to wear masks during this pandemic. That it took over 175,000 Texans to get infected and over 2,500 dying, as well as an idiotic and sped-up re0pening of businesses which caused an obvious uptick in cases to finally make a mask order happen shows a total disregard of life and health on the part of Abbott and Republicans.

Anyway, thanks?

It was Anthony Gutierrez at Common Cause who captured the reality of the mask order:

“Issuing the mandatory mask order and encouraging everyone to stay home is the right thing to do right now, considering the mess we’re in. But the right thing to do months ago to avoid this very easily foreseeable mess was to allow all Texans to vote by mail so that no one would now find themselves having to choose between voting and endangering their health.

Our Governor and Secretary of State have thus far failed when it comes to adapting our election systems in a pandemic, but it’s not too late to get it right for November.”

We’re currently in the Democratic Primary run-off here in Texas. And while many 65+ voters ordered their mail ballots, thousands of others are going into polling locations risking our health because we believe in the power of our votes. Thankfully, our own Harris County has instituted some measure of protection, but it is never safer than voting from home at this time.

Instead of opening up access to voting by mail for all as a real option, Greg Abbott and Republicans fought against it, putting even more people at risk who may have already been practicing stay-at-home measures on their own.

Anyway, let’s hope there is a vote-at-home order soon. Even Abbott agrees that “it is getting worse,” although, leaders like Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo had said it would get worse if leaders didn’t take COVID19 seriously.

A Couple of Questions Regarding Williford

First of all, I agree with Kuff:  Good riddance!

A deputy felony DA posted a pretty awful meme comparing the Black Lives Matter Movement to Nazis. It’s so wrong on so many levels that any attempt at explaining it away as “thought-provoking” is simply grasping at something that looks more like one trying to stay in their comfortably racist cocoon, than trying to add to a conversation.

That said, I do have a couple of questions:

Given this prosecutor’s comments and obvious feelings toward Black people demanding rights, does this taint any cases which she prosecuted, particularly those involving Black and Brown defendants?

And, when DA Kim Ogg decided to drop the charges on John Hernandez’s murderer, Chauna Thompson, based on the the various prosecutors whom she asked their opinion on the case, was Williford one of them? We need to know what part she played in this.

Whether people want to accept it or not, the DAs office is part of that law enforcement system that needs the reform which is being demanded by Black Lives Matter. Its culture of pumping up their conviction percentages must be changed, and the fact that this person was among the highest ranking deputies shows us that the status quo is very much alive, no matter what lip service “reform” is given by the DA.

 

My COVID-19 Early Voting Experience

By 7:15AM this morning, I had clicked “CAST BALLOT” and was done voting in the 2020 Democratic Primary Run-Off election. It was the 5 minutes (which seemed like an hour) before that were personally harrowing.

I woke up early. I shaved, brushed, combed, etc. I got my ID, put on gloves, hung a pen from my collar, and got my Kokopelli mask. I drove the one minute to my polling location at Tracy Gee and was ready to scroll. Nervous about voting in this COVID-19 era, but doing my duty like my parents taught me.

I walk in and it was welcoming. I was pointed in the right direction, told to distance 6 feet and wait to be called. Already a few Democrats were voting ahead of me.

I walked up to the lady at the table. I was told to hold out my ID so she could match faces. The woman before me didn’t have to show her face since I guess her eyes matched up, but I wasn’t recognizable, apparently. A few looks and I did her the favor and showed my face. And then I still had to tell her that I had lost a lot of weight (120 lbs since that ID pic), but I didn’t feel comfortable talking about it.

Then, she looked at my ID funny. It’s one of those new Texas Driver Licenses that follow the racist REAL ID act and I guess it looked suspect to her, even though it says “TEXAS USA Driver License” and has all the watermarks.

Then, I’m asked to turn the ID around and rest it on this tiny stand which allows the IPad to scan the ID. Well, it wouldn’t scan. Her own alarms seem to go off and she asked a question that offended this avid voter, “Is this your first time?”

I think my indignation was obvious when I said, “I’ve voted since I was 18.” The other lady at the table asked, “Did you vote in the last election?” Which caused me to take a deep breath and say, “Yes.”

These questions shouldn’t matter if the ID isn’t scanning. If you have a problem with my ID, call DPS or just type in my name and DL#, right? Well, she seemed annoyed at having to do this. But she just couldn’t read it off the ID. I had to spell out my name and sound off my date of birth and DL# for all to hear. My privacy alarms were going off, but I was going to vote!

Lo and behold, my name came up on her IPad! Once I take my ID off the little stand, and sign the IPad acknowledging that I’m voting in the Democratic Primary, I was given a finger condom, my I VOTED sticker, and my receipt.

Within a minute, I voted the #StaceSlate and was done.

I felt like a ticketed driver thanking the cop for writing me a ticket as I said “Thank you,” for what felt like a verbal frisking of my voter rights.

The moral of the story is, don’t let the pendejadas stop you from voting if this happens to you. You have a right to vote for which you have duly registered, for which you’ve had to pay for your driver license (even if it doesn’t scan and suddenly makes you a fraudster in their eyes).  Just vote!

But, damn, am I pissed off this morning.

I’ll add that I appreciate the County Clerk’s office for trying to ensure a safe election in this COVID19 era, and all the safety practices were in play and appreciated. The ID-ing of voters has not been perfected, and if anything, can be used to treat voters as fraud suspects, and that problem is systemic.

On Mayor Turner’s Police Reform Task Force

First of all, I am of the opinion that all the great ideas to reform our local police departments have already been discussed and presented, and that they have been presented prior to the events that occurred in Minneapolis.

There has been a dire need for police reform in most cities, including Houston, for decades and nothing has been attempted; if anything, it’s been avoided for political expediency and to appease those who do not support any kind of police reform. We don’t need committees, we need decisive leadership to change the system and the culture of policing.

A committee of favorites that doesn’t include groups that have been at the forefront of police reform advocacy will not come up with anything new. If anything, my fear is that a committee of favorites will only serve as a rubber stamp for the wants of the Mayor, the Chief of Police and the police union. This must be of, by, and for the people, and this committee has too many familiar faces that only talk a good game. For some, it seems it’s what they do for a living.

I wholeheartedly agree with Transform Houston which states:

  1. The 45-person board does not include any individuals currently associated with Black Lives Matter Houston. Moreover, it includes only one organization that is part of the Houston Right2Justice Coalition which has already offered community driven policy recommendations on policing to Mayor Turner.
  2. A number of individuals represented on the task force have been employed by law enforcement agencies. If our goal is to explore ways to end the status quo problems with modern policing, having so many individuals at the table who have been deeply entrenched within those broken structures seems counterproductive to achieving meaningful reform.
  3. Mayor Turner has now had 2 separate bodies recommend police reform measures – both his 2016 Transition Committee on Criminal Justice and a 2017 report on fiscal responsibility and economic growth. The recommendations from both of those reports have yet to be implemented. At today’s press conference the Mayor seemed to dismiss the recommendations as no longer valid given the current movement to reform our policing system. To be clear, there are measures that have been proposed that could be immediately implemented by Mayor Turner that would begin the process of reforming how HPD does its work.
  4. Finally, Pastor Max Miller is listed as a member of the task force. Pastor Miller is well known as an anti-LGBTQ activist who worked tirelessly to spread misinformation about Houston’s transgender community during the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance City Council debates and ballot initiative.

The list of members of the committee is here. I know a few of them personally and a few others I know of their works in the community. According to the Mayor, their charge is to review policies, review the current independent review board, assess release of body camera footage, study best practices, assess community policing practices, and study the presence of police in the community. So, I agree with Kuff when he says let’s see them do something.

But, this kind of “study” should be an ongoing thing and not just one that happens when 60,000 people show up to rally, or when HPD kills the next black or brown person and fails to release results of an internal investigation. When it comes to police practices, and given the current surge of bad apples in policing and those quitting because of rules being imposed on them, the whole system should be under citizen watch beyond our cell phones.

The Mayor and Council are supposed to be our advocates as we elect them to oversee our government services (including police), but it appears that they are falling short. And a committee of favorites does not help this cause.

 

Jose Rivera Announces for HCDE At-Large Position 7

Local non-profit executive Jose Rivera has announced his candidacy for Harris County Dept of Education Trustee, At-Large 7.  The Democratic nominee must be chosen by the Democratic Party’s precinct chairs later this summer after the current nominee was appointed to another position on the board during the primary season.

Jose offers up years of experience in Democratic campaigns, as well as community advocacy experience through his work in local government and in the office of Congressman Gene Green. Also:

Throughout his career, Jose has found a passion working and for under represented communities. For 8 years, he worked for the nationally recognized non-profit BakerRipley. It was during his time at BakerRipley that Jose learned the importance of engaging communities and collaborating to create programs and initiatives that are reflective of the communities they aim to serve. Jose also helped create and develop intergenerational programs that engaged youth and seniors through mentoring and resiliency connections.

Jose Rivera currently serves as the Executive Director of the Aldine-Greenspoint YMCA and Outreach Initiatives where he oversees programming and resources for the Aldine- Greenspoint Service area along with Outreach programming which includes apartment outreach programs, and services throughout the Greater Houston service area.

Jose holds an Executive Masters in Public Administration from Texas Southern University and has participated as a fellow in the New Leaders Council. He and his wife Tanya Makany-Rivera are members of Unity Church of Christianity and live in Houston with their two boys Anthony and Dominic who attend area public schools.

There are two vacancies on the Democratic side of the November ballot that must be filled by a vote of the Democratic Party’s executive committee, AKA the precinct chairs. One we already know about it that of County Clerk, due to the resignation of Diane Trautman and a called special election to fill the vacancy in November. Each Party must pick their candidate through the precinct chairs.

But, there’s also the position of Trustee of the Harris County Department of Education Board, Position 7–an at-large position. In this case, the Democratic candidate who won the primary was appointed to fill a vacancy on the board, which has left Dems without a candidate for November. So, the precinct chairs will fill this vacancy with a Democrat to take on the Republican in November.

That said, contact your precinct chair and tell them to read up on and support Jose Rivera for HCDE-7. He will serve Harris County well. He has already earned the nod of State Reps. Christina Morales, Armando Walle, and Ana Hernandez, as well as current HCDE Trustee Richard Cantu, and former Congressman Gene Green.

We will be hearing about at least one person running for County Clerk later this week. Stay connected!

DACA – It’s A Small Win

No doubt, there was a sigh of relief after the 5-4 SCOTUS decision on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals was announced. Many of my friends are less worried.

For the meantime, Trump and his minions have been told that they will have to find another way to make a declaration on DACA’s legality that would lead to its end.

As SCOTUS stated:

“We do not decide whether DACA or its rescission are sound policies. “The wisdom” of those decisions “is none of our concern.” Chenery II, 332 U. S., at 207. We address only whether the agency complied with the procedural requirement that it provide a reasoned explanation for its action. Here the agency failed to consider the conspicuous issues of whether to retain forbearance and what if anything to do about the hardship to DACA recipients. That dual failure raises doubts about whether the agency appreciated the scope of its discretion or exercised that discretion in a reasonable manner. The appropriate recourse is therefore to remand to DHS so that it may consider the problem anew.”

This may only further delay its demise, although, any new Trump effort to end DACA will once again be met by a challenge in the courts. This decision certainly adds to the political pressure against Trump and Republicans to do something about the entire issue (immigration and deportation reform and not just DACA), but also places pressure on Democrats who tend to get squeamish on any of these issues within the realm of immigration reform during election time.

For now, it’s still election season. As local group FIEL’s ED Cesar Espinosa stated:  “We are ecstatic that the supreme court sided on the right side of history and allowed for the DACA program to be in place for the meantime. We hope that in this interim time we are able to petition congress to come up with a permanent solution not only for DACA recipients but the immigrant community at large.”

And as various DREAMers stated at a press conference held today at FIEL, “It’s a small win,” and it is time to vote. It is time to study the candidates, find who is really on the side of DREAMers and immigrants, and vote them into office. It’s time to get beyond executive orders and actually do something.

This is not to say it’s all about politics. Much like the drive toward police reform, it’s about saving people’s lives. If politicians aren’t in it to work for the betterment of the people. then it’s just another popularity contest. Here’s a chance to do something.

There will be more on this, for sure. For now, it’s a good day.

Latino Victory Fund Endorses Natali Hurtado for HD126

The Latino Victory Fund, a national progressive organization working to grow Latino political power and representation across the United States has endorsed, among several Texans, Natali Hurtado, the Democratic candidate for Texas House District 126.

Hurtado is in her second run for the suburban district located in north and northwest Harris County. HD126 is considered a “red to blue” opportunity district with Hurtado having earned 46% of the vote in 2018. Once elected, she would be the first Latina to represent this district.

Hurtado’s experience in public policy and local politics is vast, having worked the campaign circuit for various candidates. She began her career in public policy as a congressional intern moving on up to serving as a district director for a Texas State Representative. Currently, she serves as the Deputy Executive Director of SW Houston’s International Management District in the Hawes Hill consulting firm working with district leaders to develop and improve their community.

Hurtado’s campaign issues include ensuring adequate funding for public education, access to health care, and community safety, among other issues of importance to her district.

Other candidates endorsed by Latino Victory fund include:  Joanna Cattanach, House District 108; Eric Holguin, House District 32; Jennifer Ramos, House District 119; Ana-Maria Ramos, House District 102; Lorenzo Sanchez, House District 67; and Carlos Gallinar, mayor, El Paso.