Tag Archives: Harris County

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!

 

County Clerk Diane Trautman To Resign

I’m saddened to read that our Harris County Clerk Diane Trautman has submitted her resignation effective end of May. She cites health concerns, her age, and how COVID-19 could threaten her and her family’s health in this regard.

Dr. Trautman has changed the way elections are run in Harris County. She has opened up access to voters. She has worked to make voting easier. And she finally started the process of replacing those outdated E-slates that should have been long-replaced during the republican years. Recently, she even stood up to the Attorney General to make the COVID-19 epidemic a good enough reason to order a ballot by mail in order to avoid election day crowds and the COVID spit clouds within them. She thought of making changes for the benefit of the people before she resigned for her own health. That counts for a lot.

I met Diane in 2004. I and my sister had opened up our Democratic Primary election day polling location in our neighborhood school. It still wasn’t cool for Democrats to challenge each other, or even stand up and run for a chance to take on the local republicans. So, it wasn’t all that busy in our republican Kingwood precinct. Out of nowhere, Diane shows up to volunteer for a few hours. While waiting for voters to trickle in, we talked process, resumes, and Democratic politics. I thought, this woman wants to run for something. Obviously, that was a good thing.

Soon, she’d make a run against Joe Crabb, the long-time right-wing state representative. Given her suburban living and suburban teaching and education administration experience, she had a lot of cross-party friends who supported her. Still, it’s tough to take on a republican in a republican district. It was a learning experience for Diane, but also for the rest of us who were trying to organize suburban Democrats–even if it was to provide a bottom line to our countywide numbers.

Diane did get elected to the Harris County Dept of Education Board, though. Because of her, many of us learned more about this taxing entity and how it helped school districts around the county, as well as students in need of specialized programs. And she fought valiantly against efforts by republicans to do away with the agency. It earned her more visibility to challenge a republican incumbent for County Clerk. And she won! And she worked.

Thanks, Dr. Trautman, for your service and friendship.

Back to central casting. The process calls for the County Commissioner’s court to name an interim County Clerk, and then the precinct chairs of each party will pick a candidate to run in November, 2020 with the winner completing the term and having to run for re-election in 2022.

I’m of the opinion that the Democratic majority on the Commissioner’s Court should make a strong appointment of someone who will be the incumbent, making it clear that there is no need for a possible free-for-all at the precinct chair level.

We elected our County Judge and our Commissioners, while most of us cannot even find a link on the Party website to find our own precinct chair so that we can lobby for whom we want them to vote. Either process is hardly democratic as the voters are left out of the process. I’d rather go with whom our top leaders choose and have the precinct chairs basically ratify it so we can move forward. Wishful thinking? Maybe.

Some may opine that appointing as interim one of the professionals already in the County Clerk’s office to run the 2020 election and be a placeholder while allowing a candidate chosen by the precinct chairs to run full-time is the solution. And that’s a good argument. But I think we should have a candidate who can show that they can do the professional and the political work, simultaneously. I think it’s more of a confidence builder for us voters when we see that our candidates can walk and chew gum at the same time.

Either way, we’ll see what happens. I already see suggestions on my Facebook feeds about who should run and about diversity on the ballot. There’s nothing wrong with healthy debate, but these things can take a turn for the ugly real quick. And that’s another reason why I’d like to see the Judge and Commissioners lead on this one.

Local Republicans To Create COVID Spit Cloud in Downtown Houston

COVID Spit Clouds Matter!  [Original: LATimes]

Apparently, a local bigoted, hormone-shot giving, unelected chair of the Republican party is organizing the creation of Houston’s very own Right-Wing COVID spit cloud in Downtown as a response to County Judge Lina Hidalgo’s face covering order.

Apparently, these idiots want the right to get sick and then to make others sick during this pandemic by keeping their faces uncovered because they were told by a Latina Democrat to cover their faces, which, they say, is “socialism.” ((Reads comments on local news sites)) Yes, that’s what I gather from reading some of the badly spelled, idiotic, misogynistic, and bigoted comments on local news FB pages.

No need to debate these idiots. It’s a waste of time. Bottom line:  They’re dangerous. But they were dangerous before they wanted to form a COVID spit cloud, so, let’s not fool ourselves that masks are the only issue they have against Judge Hidalgo.

Just be warned of the dangers of walking into this right-wing COVID spit cloud that will appear at our county offices today. At this time, we haven’t been advised how long this spit cloud will linger in downtown after these mostly suburbanite and/or non-Harris County residents disperse. I am hoping the area is fumigated, or at least doused with some Fabuloso, after this threat to our health.

 

EARLY VOTING BEGINS FOR THE 2020 DEM PRIMARY

Don’t ask me about the republican primary, but I’m sure the latest KKK meeting has an event page on Facebook.

Today, Tuesday, February 18, 2020 is the first day of early voting. In Harris County, that means you can vote at any early voting location. By now, you’ve studied every race and filled out your sample ballot to take to the voting machine. Or, you can print out the #StaceSlate and use my suggestions. Or at least some of them. We can disagree on some as long as you vote for Bernie. And Royce West. And Julia Maldonado. And Audia Jones. And Natalia Cornelio. And Diana Martinez Alexander. And Ann Harris Bennett. Obviously, I’ve made it easy with the #StaceSlate.

Anyway, you have until February 28 to bank your vote. Thankfully, our County Clerk Diane Trautman (with the help of a Democratic majority on Commissioner’s Court) is making voting easier and more accessible, so you’ll be able to vote at any polling location on election day (March 3). Need a translator? Diane has made that easy, too. Need curbside voting? Here you go! Get it done early because you never know what may happen to you before election day! And don’t forget your ID.

There really is no good reason to not vote. And in Harris County, the only ones that might keep you from voting are thuggy republicans who don’t want you to vote. But we have Diane Trautman to back you up! And we have Ann Harris Bennett to make sure you stay registered to vote.

Click here for the #StaceSlate! Happy Voting!

The Race for County Commish Pct 3 – A Forum

I attended a candidate forum featuring four candidates seeking the Democratic nomination for Harris County Pct 3 Commissioner. The candidates were Diana Martinez Alexander, Morris Overstreet, Michael Moore, and Kristi Thibaut. The moderator was Charles Kuffner (of Off The Kuff fame) who did an outstanding job of asking some good questions regarding budget priorities, bail reform, flood control and mitigation, city-county cooperation, transportation, climate change, among other topics.

To be honest, all of the candidates offered good answers, whether it was Alexander on Pre-K, Moore on environmental regulation, Thibaut on flood mitigation, or Morris on voting rights. [Watch the video!] There wasn’t much, if any, disagreement.  One thing they all agreed on though, as well as those in attendance, was that all of the good ideas that any of these folks have will only work if Democrats flip the Texas House, thus forcing some bipartisan work from the Texas Senate to do something about revenue caps and the boot that the State of Texas currently has on local government’s necks. Even so, it will be a battle that will require more than some semblance of bipartisanship that republicans refuse to practice. And an even stronger Democratic majority on the commissioner’s court helps.

That said, I usually seek out other qualities from candidates when faced with similarly good answers. For example, when Kuffner asked the question about legislative priorities, it was Diana Martinez Alexander who brought up fighting Greg Abbott’s SB4, the racial profiling and anti-immigrant law that turns local law enforcement into border cops and wastes vital resources. Or, when felony bail reform was brought up, it was the jurist, Morris Overstreet, who provided some clarity to the issue, rather than a cautiously moderate approach to even discussing it.

Of course, political traditions dictate that those that raise the most money and run traditional campaigns have the best chance at beating a republican. But it also takes some good ol’ retail politics to gain this voter’s’ attention, so, kudos to grassroots candidate Diana Martinez Alexander for working the room and speaking to folks she hadn’t met before (me and my sister). Sure, precinct 3 may be too large in which to run that kind of campaign, but last night’s intimate setting filled with activists who GOTV was a good shot at shaking hands and asking for the vote. (And that goes for the other candidates (and office holders) in the room! Stop talking to people you already know!)

As a Chicano voter, I also naturally look for commonalities–with whom do I identify? When Overstreet mentioned he was from West Texas with siblings who had all earned higher education degrees despite their parents’ lack of that kind of opportunity, it spoke to me. Martinez Alexander’s mention that her mother still works cleaning houses was a stark reminder that Harris County’s diversity is both ethnic and economic, thus requiring someone with that kind of life experience who will fight for all of the people without a second thought. It’s not always about polish.

Those that prefer political money and political polish have a couple of candidates, for sure. It’s just not what I’m looking for in this primary election season. That stuff doesn’t impress me if you’re not walking up to a voter and asking for their vote. That said, I’ll be a “D” vote in this race in November, but I’m leaning toward the candidate that best represents me, my issues, and my interests. At least that’s my take after this one forum.

Thanks to the Southwest Democrats (and others) who hosted this event.

Photo:  Erik Manning (Southwest Democrats)

Primary Controversy Resolved by Judge

Late last year, I wrote about how the local Dem Party ruled that incumbent 351st District Judge George Powell was ineligible for the primary ballot because he had submitted the wrong amount required for the filing fee. Well, District Judge Lauren Reeder heard all of the facts of the case and ruled that Judge Powell should be placed back on the ballot.

Apparently, there were a few more facts to consider beyond the wrong amount and wrong information supposedly given by a party volunteer to the Judge.

Powell gave enough money to the party in a stroke of good fortune – he wrote a second check to the Democratic Party on the Dec. 9 filing deadline, meant as a $2,500 loan for another potential candidate’s application. That woman’s application wasn’t even received because of insufficiencies on her form, but the party cashed both Powell’s $2,500 and $1,500 checks, meaning the organization accepted $4,000 from him, according to testimony.

A lawyer friend in the courtroom told me about other arguments made by the plaintiff that were eye opening, but since there’s nothing written in the press, I won’t get specific. Of course, the plaintiff also gave mention to political intrigue (read the article), but, can anyone name one contested Dem Primary that hasn’t had intrigue? And 2020 has a few intriguing races.

Anyway, the Dem Primary race for the 351st Criminal Court will have Natalia Cornelio challenging Powell. Cornelio helped draft the settlement to improve Harris County’s misdemeanor bail system which was declared unconstitutional in federal court for discriminating against poor defendants. Powell’s actions on the bench do not seem to support the settlement.

Powell was one of 11 current and former judges in the area who were admonished by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct in 2019 related to complaints that they instructed hearing officers to deny no-cost bail to indigent defendants. That admonishment has since been retracted for unknown reasons.

Cornelio released this statement:

I remain focused on why I am running and on pushing for the issues that matter in criminal courts, like promoting community centered justice, bail reform, and a commitment to reducing racial disparities in our justice system.

So, it’s off to the races! Kuff has more.

It Wouldn’t Be A Dem Primary Without A Filing Controversy

If you haven’t heard, an incumbent Democratic Criminal District Judge incorrectly filed for re-election and had his candidacy rejected by the Harris County Democratic Party, as reported by Miya Shay at ABC13. Judge George Powell of the 351st District Court filed for re-election as the deadline neared on December 9 and paid the wrong filing fee. Once his paperwork was checked, and the check was short, he was rejected.

Any candidate (and especially incumbent) should know to read the rules for filing for office. You learn this in a Candidate 101 class given by any friendly consultant or blogger. Or, at least on the Texas Secretary of State’s website.

The rules are simple. Those filing for Criminal District Judge should file with the County Chair. The candidate has the option of collecting 750 signatures in lieu of the filing fee, or collecting 250 signatures and paying a $2500 filing fee (in large counties, including Harris) as is stated in Sections 172.024(10), (12), of the Texas Election Code.

Powell is stating that he was told it was $1500 by someone at the Party. But this isn’t his first rodeo and the rules have not changed. Also, the Harris County Democratic Party isn’t a grocery store with a checkout counter. They collect the paperwork and the decision is made by the County Chair. And, finally, the SOS Candidate Handbook states all of this stuff quite specifically.

[There’s a reason I tell candidates to file early, and not at the last minute. Just in case.]

There’s no telling what will be decided. A temporary restraining order was granted by a judge and a hearing will be held in early January. My experience in this (having worked on a campaign which challenged sloppy signatures, yet still approved by the County Chair at the time), is that judges aren’t too keen on even deciding these cases, or deciding against a party’s decision. But we have a whole different crop of judges, now. So, ay veremos.

The bigger question is:  Can a judge who interprets the law be taken seriously when he doesn’t read the laws pertaining to his own candidacy?

Anyway, thankfully, a well-qualified attorney had filed to challenge the incumbent. Natalia Cornelio did follow the rules and made it on to the ballot and is currently the only candidate running for the 351st. She champions fairness, civil rights, and criminal justice reform. We need more of that in our courts.

We Have A 2020 Dem Primary!

Well, there were few surprises at the end of the final filing day, but we do have some contested races all the way down the ballot. Here’s my take on some of the local races on my ballot.

US Senate. There are a lot of Dems in the running, but I will say that I am currently interested in Cristina Tzintzun Ramirez and State Senator Royce West. West has been going around the state, while Ramirez has earned the support of Beto O’Rourke’s staffers. The big question of voters will be:  Who can beat Cornyn?

Texas Railroad Commish. I’m glad to see my friend and former State Rep. Roberto Alonzo (of Dallas by way of Crystal City) in the running.

State Rep. Gene Wu (137th) seems to have been virtually re-elected. No challengers in May or November as of my last look at the SOS site.

State Senate District 13. My State Senator Borris Miles has a couple of challengers. I’m sure we’ll get to keep him at the end of the Primary.

Commish Pct 3. The biggest (non-)surprise was that Pct. 1 Constable Alan Rosen did not sign up to run for this race and decided to run for another term. I was hoping he would jump in since I thought he’d have the fundraising and campaigning abilities to win in November. We’re left with a list of relatively unknown (or who haven’t been around for a while) persons to duke it out in the primary. Stay tuned. I know I’ll be since I really don’t know for whom to vote. The Republicans will have their own battle which will hopefully be fun to watch (who outrepublicans the other).

Tax Assessor-Collector. Our friendly and awesome incumbent Ann Bennett ended up with a couple of challengers. Ann Bennett has done a great job with voter registration, increasing the number of trainings in multiple languages and the overall promotion of the task, while vastly improving customer service levels around the county. No doubt, we need this incumbent on the ballot to beat the well-known GOP candidate in November.

Other Positions.

As expected, County Court at Law #4 appointee, Judge Lesley Briones, who managed to not accidentally resign during her more than three months in office, got a challenge from the guy who accidentally resigned after less than 3 months in office.

The JP Pct 5-1 race will be interesting, since I live in it. Both Roel Garcia and Israel Garcia worked the signature-collection hard and I ran in to them several times. The other two candidates, I’ve never seen.

Constable Pct 5. I’m glad to see Dem interest in running for this post. There are three candidates running in this one–none that I’ve met. So, I look forward to learning more about them.

One thing I have always mentioned is that when the Democrats took over the County, contested primaries would become a thing, and it is happening in this one. The hardest working District Judge in District 80, Larry Weiman, is now challenged. Alexandra Smoots-Thomas (164th) is challenged by Cheryl Elliot-Thornton, who has run a couple of times for other courts. My friend Ursula Hall (165th) has a couple of challengers. Nikita Harmon (176th) and Robert Johnson (177th), Randy Roll (179th), Daryl Moore (333rd), Steven Kirkland (334th), and Julia Maldonado (507th) have opponents, most who I’ve never even heard of. I look forward to seeing the reasons they are challenging some of these incumbents and hopefully, it’s more than just ego (or some objection they lost in their courtroom).

Of note, should be the Democratic judges that were left unchallenged by Republicans. If the GOP didn’t fill their ballot, well, it shows their self-confidence has been weakened. Let’s hit them hard in November!

Texas House District 85. This district represents a big chunk of Fort Bend and all of Wharton and Jackson counties. A Democrat from Fort Bend came within 7 points of the incumbent in 2018. This time around, Louise (Wharton County) native Joey Cardenas, III, a teacher for over 25 years in Wharton and Jackson counties, will take on the challenge. Beyond his years of creating the next generations’ leaders, Cardenas has been a statewide leader on issues like public education and redistricting, walking the halls of the Texas Capitol advocating for students, teachers, and voters. Plus, I’ve known him for 27+ years since our days at SWT (TXST).

We will have more on the Primary as the days go by. March is just a few of months away. For now, vote in the City of Houston election! Today (12/10) is the last day of early voting. Saturday is run-off election day. Vote anywhere in Harris County! And Vote the StaceSlate of Turner-Raj-Robinson-Carmouche-Plummer-Alcorn!

Kuff has more.

 

 

A Short Local Nightmare Is Over

There are plenty of opinions, legal and otherwise, regarding the accidental resignation of Judge Bill McCleod from his County Court at Law #4 post. No doubt, he has quite a fan base that he worked hard to build by literally being everywhere during his campaigns for office over the years. Ultimately, the law is the law and the County Attorney and County Commissioners made the right call–legally and politically. While the Democrats were straight-forward on the decision, the Republicans seemed to want to play political games given how they voted on the matter.

But, as Kuff reports, the appointment of the new judge, Lesley Briones, came quickly and without much discussion or consideration. While there are no questions of legality, there are political and maybe procedural questions, especially from Democratic activists.

Mostly, Democratic activists have never heard of Briones–even Commissioners who supported her appointment. The questions I got from various activists included:

  • Who is she? Well, Briones has worked with a big firm and a major local nonprofit. She taught at-risk kids in South Texas. She’s educated, obviously. And from my research, she has some South Texas roots (that’s always a plus for this transplant).
  • Has she represented clients in local courts? I have no idea, but it was pointed out to me that maybe not. Perhaps her work has been more transactional and advisory given her resume. Still, she’s trained in the law and will receive the same kind of courtroom training as all of our other judges.
  • Is she a Democrat? I don’t have access to that voter info, but it was pointed out that she does have a favorable primary voting record.

Others expect potential candidates to be party activists and wonder if she’s been to club meetings or knocked on doors in the past.

I don’t blame Dems for asking these questions. We vote and expect our votes to be heard. And Dems feel like we weren’t heard or advised on the appointment by Commissioners. Commissioners did not give voters a chance to be heard on the appointment or find out who else was considered. But, they did open up the meeting to those speaking on McCleod’s behalf. We may not have gotten to vote on the appointee, but some participation would have been nice.

But, I’m also of the opinion that we don’t elect County Commissioners to save the political hides of people who mess up. We’ve got real issues that must be addressed:  Recent environmental disasters, voting rights, criminal justice reform, health care, transportation and roads, etc. And this is exactly what we elected them to do. It was an error of ambition that put the County Commissioners in a position of wasting valuable time on this, instead of doing the work for which they were elected. That they wanted to get beyond this situation and get back to work, well, I don’t blame them.

In this case, we trust those we elected to make the right decisions. If you don’t like the decision, well, email them, message them, or show up at a meeting and tell them. At this point, I’d rather just move forward.

For Briones, if she decides to run for the position in the 2020 special election, then she’ll probably need to get through a primary before getting to the general election. At that point, she’ll have more experience, and, hopefully, she’ll have made herself known to activists. But if we’re the Democrats I know we are, then I’d expect it to be a free-for-all because there aren’t many open judicial seats coming up in 2020 and the political bug is obviously nipping at potential candidates.