Tag Archives: Harris County

Death Rate Soars Among Latinos in Harris County

And, yes, it is because of COVID-19.

Harris County Public Health District Deputy Director Gwen Sims said in 2020 the death rate among Hispanics jumped 46.6 percent from the previous year of which 22 percent of deaths were contributed to COVID-19.

County Commissioner Adrian Garcia said they must address disparities affecting this group and it starts with getting vaccinated.

Garcia said COVID-19 vaccine will save lives.

“It’s not like a hurricane where swift waters are taking someone and we we’re trying to figure out where’s the rope, where’s the ladder, who is the first responders to dive in and rescue a life,” Garcia said. “We can rescue lives today by those who are not vaccinated stepping forward.”

No doubt, the vaccination rate among Latinos in Harris County could be better, while Latinos also make up almost 30 percent of Harris County’s COVID-19 positivity these last few weeks. The weekly percentage of total residents of Harris County getting vaccinated has held steady at around 46% for Latinos. Almost half of vaccinations are going to residents age 12 to 29, according to the weekly average stats.

And Garcia brings up a good point that access to health care is a major issue in all of this as Latino deaths of all causes also rose 22%. Which means, if Latinos do not have access to take care of illnesses and comorbidities that are exacerbated by COVID-19, things will not improve.

I guess it’s a good time to remind Greg Abbott that expanding Medicaid will help in this regard. I guess we should remind voters, too, that Greg Abbott has done nothing but help worsen the death rate among all Texans.

Anyway, get vaccinated, mask up, and stay away from crowds and people outside of your circle.

ICE Hearing: Disappointing, But Expected

Ed Gonzalez testified before a Senate committee considering his appointment to lead the broken agency, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and he did exactly what he needed to do: Support bad policies while giving it a “compassionate” narrative. Disappointing, but expected.

For those who are sycophants, the clueless, or those who refuse to understand the reality of ICE and immigration policies, the ACLU response from their Senior Policy Counsel Naureen Shah was spot on:

“Today, Americans got a glimpse into the leadership Sheriff Ed Gonzalez would bring to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement should he be confirmed as director, and it was deeply disappointing. Gonzalez seemed more interested in placating anti-immigrant politicians on the committee than laying out a vision for reform. This was a huge missed opportunity to make it clear to immigrant families and communities that the Biden administration is truly committed to making a decisive break from the Trump administration’s racist and anti-immigrant policies.

“Gonzalez stated he does not intend to end the 287(g) program, an ICE program that taps local law enforcement to assist in deportations and that has a history of encouraging racial profiling and civil rights violations. This lack of commitment comes despite Gonzalez ending the program in Harris County, Texas during his time as sheriff and despite President Biden pledging on the campaign trail to end 287(g) agreements that were entered into under the Trump administration.

“When ICE taps local law enforcement to do federal immigration enforcement, public safety suffers because immigrants and their families cannot seek police protection or assist in investigations of serious crimes, for fear that it could lead to deportation of themselves or a loved one. Gonzalez understood this as sheriff of Harris County and, should he be confirmed, we will hold him accountable to President Biden’s promises to end dozens of these agreements.

“Additionally, Gonzalez did not lay out any plans for addressing systemic abuses by ICE, including the unnecessary and inhumane detention of thousands of people and ICE’s practice of using violence and masquerading as local police when conducting street arrests, which has led to Fourth Amendment violations.”

Yes, a lot that needed to be discussed was missing, but I’ve decided that these hearings are to exhibit your show horse, rather than to race it to show us what it’s got.

As ACLU stated, Gonzalez ended the 287(g) program in Harris County, but gave all credit to “budget issues” for ending it, rather than crediting discussions with migrant advocate groups and activists and his own supporters who would lobby him every time they caught his ear. (Me included.) Made one feel that community policing is a myth.

Anyway, the right-wingers found a way to attack and racially profile during the hearings and Gonzalez held his ground while placating their bigoted interests. Again, he did what was expected to get confirmed. Biden is the politician who must be held accountable, ultimately.

The Witch Hunt of Dr. Gokal Must End

While local authorities reward bad street racing behavior by giving them a place to “practice,” the local DAs office continues their witch hunt of Dr. Hasan Gokal, a doctor employed by Harris County who was accused of stealing one vial of COVID-19 vaccine, while doing everything possible to avoid it being wasted.

While the state’s top authority for doctors has found no evidence of wrongdoing, the DA is still going to present a case to a grand jury despite a judge dropping the charges for lack of evidence.

The March 9th letter stated Gokal “appeared to have administered doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to patients that were properly consented, in the eligible patient category, and they were given doses that would have otherwise been wasted.”

KHOU 3/16/2021

Further, Dr. Gokal did the proper reporting of the administration of the vaccine and he didn’t gain any benefit from it. It wasn’t some vast vax steal conspiracy to make money. We already have local hospitals and clinics charging people for what is supposed to be a free vaccine and they aren’t being investigated by the DA.

Why does the DA continue this fruitless cause?

Of course, we’re talking about the same DA who dropped all charges against deputy Shauna Thompson for murdering John Hernandez at a Denny’s in East Harris County a few years ago with the excuse that, despite video evidence that Hernandez was suffocated by Thompson and her husband, there wasn’t enough evidence to convict her. It would seem this Doc’s case lacks any evidence, other than we have a doctor–a public servant–doing his job of making sure the vaccine was not wasted.

Earlier this year, our County Judge reported on wasted vaccine and has even made other groups (teachers) a priority to ensure that vials of vaccine do not go to waste. So, not wasting vaccine is a good thing and trending, apparently.

It was also reported that one box of vaccine was wasted when it fell off a table at a vax location. So, yes, mistakes happen at vax locations, but Gokal’s case was all about not wasting vaccine and making sure it went to the right people.

This case lacks any semblance of criminality and it needs to end to save this good Doc’s career and livelihood. Let’s not waste a needed doctor by trying to score some cheap points for a junior prosecutor’s win-loss record.

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!

DC’s #StaceSlate – 2020 Dem Runoff

In case you all have forgotten, Democrats have a run-off election to begin participating in come Monday. For some of us, it’s a busy ballot from the Senate down to Constable.

Early voting begins June 29 and goes on through July 10. Run-off election day is July 14. Find your sample ballot here. You can find a polling location here. Here is the 2020 Democratic Run-Off #StaceSlate :

Continue reading

Apply For The Harris County COVID-19 Relief Fund, June 23-24

Thanks to State Rep. Christina Morales for the reminder regarding the Harris County COVID-19 Relief Fund application process:

The Harris County COVID-19 relief fund opens for eligible, low-income Harris County Residents, including those excluded by the CARES Act or immigrant households, and people who may receive Pandemic Unemployment Assistance but cannot afford to wait for months.

Apply Online at www.harriscountyrelief.org from Tuesday, June 23 at 6AM through Wednesday, June 24 at 10PM.

Apply by Phone: Friendly operators will help applicants during the process by recording their answers and submitting the application.

June 23: Open 6AM – 2PM CT
June 24: Open 2PM – 10PM CT

CLICK TO ENLARGE IMAGES BELOW

The Latest on Local Police Reform

The Harris County Commissioner’s Court approved a long list of items that could lead to reform of law enforcement at the county level.

At the very least, these reforms will create some semblance of transparency over law enforcement budgeting and statistics regarding racial disparities in the system itself, and create a mechanism to ensure the indigent are represented in criminal courts. Most importantly, it gets the ball rolling on an independent civilian oversight board with subpoena power.

Sheriff Ed Gonzalez took to social media to tell us of his dislike of the #defund movement, stating that more money is needed. My own thinking is that a more transparent budget process would definitely allow us to look beyond the usually undisputed round numbers that go with funding law enforcement.

He added:

I’m putting in the work to review how my agency can do better. For some changes, we don’t need extra time to review, I’m moving forward now. Other changes may require more time, simply because they’re complex issues that require thoughtful deliberation. We prohibit the use of chokeholds, but we’re going to make it even more clear in policy. We will immediately implement a Duty to Report policy. We will increase audits of our BWC’s and taser use. And more is in the works. The time to act is now.

I hope the Sheriff understands that it takes these types of events, including the local unresolved murder-by-cop case in his own department of Joshua Johnson, to exact some action from our leaders. A lot more is needed. Above all, these things must be codified in countywide (and statewide and federal) fashion so that the next Sheriff doesn’t obliterate it all.

Either way, it’s good to see something that was decided by those whom we elected.

In other news…

After City Council failed to support a comprehensive list of police reforms submitted as budget amendments by CM Letitia Plummer, they approved an increase in funding for HPD. Instead, Mayor Sylvester Turner signed an executive order on police practices.

The EO covers the police department’s response to resistance, de-escalation, use of deadly force, prohibited techniques, and no-knock warrants. For the first time, it codifies prohibited techniques, such as neck restraints or chokeholds, which cannot be used unless objectively necessary to prevent imminent serious bodily injury or death to the officer or others.

No word on reforms that lead to more transparency and accountability, such as release of bodycam film and investigations of the bad apples and the good apples who allow them to be bad, but, supposedly, there is a task force.

Obviously, we will all keep an eye on this and the coming push back from the naysayers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Harris County To Consider Reforms to Law Enforcement

Harris County Commissioner Pct 1 Rodney Ellis and his Democratic colleagues (Judge Hidalgo and Commissioner Garcia) will propose some needed reforms to law enforcement in Harris County. Stated Commissioner Ellis on his Facebook page:

Harris County devotes more than $776 million to the Sheriff and Constables. That’s 45% of our total spending of our general fund departmental budget. By reallocating funds towards community resources we can begin to build a better quality of life for communities of color and stop using the criminal justice system to address problems associated with poverty and health.

The Chron’s Zach Despart posted the proposals:

As Kuff states, it’s harder for the Commisssioners to impose police reforms on law enforcement departments run by their own elected officials, such as Sheriff and Constables. But each of these proposals has much to do with how tax dollars for law enforcement are allocated and how these offices will become more accountable to the people, i.e., the creation of an independent civilian review board with subpoena power.

Kuff also reminds us that the Houston Mayor and City Council do have more power to effect police reforms and I must agree that City Council Member Letitia Plummer’s budget amendment proposals should be a starting point for implementation. Considering that the Mayor is proposing almost a billion dollars for law enforcement with no particular proposal for change or reform, it is definitely time for a public discussion led by elected officials, rather than political appointees.

 

 

 

Christopher Hollins Named Interim County Clerk

Late last night, I got the message that the Harris County Commissioner’s Court appointed local lawyer and Texas Democratic Party Finance Chair Christopher Hollins to serve as interim Harris County Clerk.

The court voted 3-2 along party lines to approve Hollins. Five public speakers urged court members to choose Teneshia Hudspeth, Trautman’s chief deputy. County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis said Hollins’ pledge to serve only on an interim basis factored in their decision.

So, it will be up to the Party’s precinct chairs to select someone to be the nominee on the November 2020 ballot. Let the games begin.

Hollins, though, seems like candidate material. He served the Obama administration’s Office of Presidential Personnel as a legal intern before embarking on his career. No doubt, he has some Democratic bonafides considering his current position in the Party.

After navigating the local Party website, I finally found out how to find my precinct chair. Unfortunately, they want all my information before telling me who publicly signed up to run for the office (or got appointed later). Anyway, if you want to lobby your precinct chair, I guess this is how you can start.

 

Should Harris County Have An Independent Elections Administrator?

In case you haven’t heard, our County Clerk Diane Trautman has submitted her resignation effective end of month. The Harris County Commissioner’s Court is about to appoint an interim to serve while each political party’s precinct chairs will decide on a candidate who will run in November, 2020. In fact, the interim appointment is supposedly happening this week.

While my post about any replacement county clerk was mostly political, the conversation seems to have taken a turn toward the notion of appointing a non-partisan, professional elections administrator. Harris County is among the last large counties in Texas who still have an elected official running elections, while others have hired professionals to serve in this capacity. And it’s mostly worked and it’s taken the politics out of elections–mostly.

Kuff has more on this.

One of the concerns I had at the time was how do you remove an Elections Administrator if one proves to be not up to the task. The answer to that question, at least as articulated in that last link, appears to be “with a four-fifths majority of the election commission”, which concerns me as anything that requires a supermajority does.

Whether one removes the politics from elections, it’s still a government role so it will still reek of politics if it comes down to this kind of situation. Still, giving the role to a professional doesn’t sound like a bad idea. The policy, though, is still made by politicians and bad policy won’t change unless you get rid of bad politicians who do not support access to voting and increased voter education.

Still, nothing wrong with a discussion.

We still have an election in 2020 to replace Diane Trautman–or to appoint someone who will move forward from where Trautman leaves off. Either way, Commissioner’s Court will need to appoint someone who can run elections in a month and in a few months. I’m pretty sure creating a new elections agency will take more than just printing new signage for office doors and courthouse hallways. Maybe, even politics!