A Most Unusual Water Bill Complaint

To set the scene, here are two names from the Houston City Council agenda for public speakers to address council on Tuesday afternoon:

  • Mr. Deepak Upreti – 8500 Nairn Street – 77074 – Water dispute discrepancy
  • Mr. Kamal Bhambhani – 8500 Nairn Street – 77074 – Water dispute discrepancy

What jumps out from this is the address. 8500 Nairn is the Rockport Apartments here in southwest Houston. It is also one that was particularly hard-hit by the tornadoes and flooding that happened over Labor Day weekend. Here’s some background on why this particular apartment complex means anything:

» KTRK: Many Residents Displaced After Tornado Hits SW Houston Apartment Complex

The scene was pretty gruesome. Council Member Mike Laster and his crew worked overtime to help families in the days after 11 of the 22 buildings in this complex were damaged.

Anyhow, it turns out that the owners of the complex chose to address council about what they believe to be a $2,000 overcharge on the water bill for the complex – supposedly related to the impact the damage had on the occupancy rate for the complex. Things did not go well.

All Quiet on the Television Front

Since I’ve got a spanking-new Comcast DVR to break in, I thought I’d set up a schedule for the local news. So I’ve got one schedule for a 6am broadcast on KPRC, a 6pm on KTRK, and a 10pm on KHOU. Mind you, I don’t intend to watch this much local news. The purpose of this is to see what local candidates are advertising there. Since setting this up about a month ago, I’ve not seen a single ad. Obviously, we’ve not yet reached Labor Day. So there’s still time. I’m told that Stephen Costello had advertisements purchased on the locals – I presume it was at the launch of his “Hello Costello” ad. But there’s been no sustained advertising that I’ve witnessed.

The campaign finance reports released back in July indicated that King and Costello were buying cable advertising. I owe it to myself to investigate those purchases. It’s always interesting to see if there’s some wildly inefficient spending going on with cable ad purchases.

The 2015 Money Primary: City of Houston [UPDATED]

UPDATE (Thursday afternoon) – Updates made after the first large batch are italicized below. Carroll Robinson leads the way for updates.

———–

UPDATE (midnight) – Kudos to the city staff who got the page updated in good time. Updates below are from the reports listed around midnight on the 15th. Obviously, some are still missing.

A note on methodology: I broke out the amounts “raised” into three distinct categories: the relatively true “raised” total from page three of the reports, the in-kind total from page three, and the loans reported on page three. Totals for expenditures and cash on hand are taken from page two of the reports. Most campaigns are likely to publicize their grand total of funds raised. My intent is to highlight the amounts raised in new, hard cash as well as the cash on hand. For now, just the totals – I’ll update the missing as I get to them. Commentary and a little bit of research to follow in the days ahead.

———–

Here’s the running total as they come in. As Kuff notes, the city’s system isn’t prepared for the new format of the report. So if I’m lagging, here’s the page where the reports are supposed to be loaded.

The new system is designed to clarify what expenses are really in-kind contributions. For the uninitiated, these kind of items have typically been things like a poll or opposition research package provided by an organization or major donor (which has some value and has varying degrees of actual value). They’ve also been abused by candidates listing yard signs as a set dollar value in-kind contribution (which is generally bull-honkus). For better or worse, the distinction looks like it is designed to provide some honest-er accounting.

Given the time of year, Cash on Hand is the amount to pay the most attention to. You may or may not be able to puff up numbers elsewhere in the report, but the amount of money you have in the bank to drop on an opponent’s head going into the Labor Day campaign launchpad is harder to massage. Although, there’s not much accountability for just making up a number there.

Anyway, numbers to come as they’re posted or if candidates post some Page 2s online. In that case (like that of Chris Brown’s below), the in-kind column is noted with a placeholder (#).

Mayor                     Raised     In-Kind      Loan      Spent     On Hand
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Chris Bell               366,770     14,897          0    204,868     190,034
Stephen Costello       1,476,757     15,475     90,000    496,668   1,314,202
Adrian Garcia          1,441,792     64,982          0    122,699   1,321,625
Ben Hall                 948,630*         #    850,000    136,454     812,175
Bill King                721,250     34,042    500,000    680,685     544,498
Marty McVey               43,927     16,270  1,075,000    129,185   1,071,585
Demetria Smith                NA
Sylvester Turner         747,793     15,298          0    601,853   1,160,813

* - Ben Hall's campaign didn't break out their in-kind expnses on their report.

Controller                Raised     In-Kind      Loan      Spent     On Hand
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Jew Don Boney                 NA
Chris Brown              267,750      3,547          0     22,032     222,858
Bill Frazer              128,097      1,009     32,500    120,956      53,973 
Dwight Jefferson           8,653      2,943      1,860      9,255           *
Carroll Robinson          46,170      3,908          0     33,973       5,033     

* - Jefferson's campaign didn't have Page Two details

At Large #1               Raised     In-Kind      Loan      Spent     On Hand
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Trebor Gordon                 NA
Griff Griffin                 NA
Lane Lewis               102,473      2,296        100     19,082      62,839
Tom McCasland            128,241     13,742          0     30,199      98,041
Chris Oliver              27,585     10,000          0      3,913      23,671
Jenifer Pool                  NA


At Large #2               Raised     In-Kind      Loan      Spent     On Hand
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Andrew Burks                  NA
Moe Rivera                   992        130          0        303           ?
David Robinson (i)            NA


At Large #3               Raised     In-Kind      Loan      Spent     On Hand
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Brad Batteau                  NA
Atlas Kerr                    NA
Michael Kubosh (i)        63,205          0          0     23,322      44,745
John C.B. LaRue              650      1,525          0        537         218    
Joseph McElligott             NA
Doug Peterson              4,250        505          0        104       4,120 


At Large #4               Raised     In-Kind      Loan      Spent     On Hand
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Larry Blackmon               NA
Amanda Edwards          157,084       8,874        500     29,300     118,185    
Jonathan Hansen             950         300      6,663      1,613           0
Roy Morales              16,300         500          0        451      16,348
Matt Murphy               3,990           0     10,332     14,195         330
Laurie Robinson          28,623      14,420     12,000     16,736      26,719


At Large #5               Raised     In-Kind      Loan      Spent     On Hand
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Jack Christie (i)       124,350           0          0     28,148      100,281
Durrel Douglas               NA
Philippe Nassif              NA
Charles Tahir                 0


District A                Raised     In-Kind      Loan      Spent     On Hand
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Brenda Stardig (i)        85,075          0          0     31,833      113,897


District B                Raised     In-Kind      Loan      Spent     On Hand
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Jerry Davis (i)           96,430          0          0     28,687      161,587


District C                Raised     In-Kind      Loan      Spent     On Hand
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Ellen Cohen (i)          131,450          0          0     24,479     167,474
Jason Hochman                  0          0          0          0           0


District D                Raised     In-Kind      Loan      Spent     On Hand
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Dwight Boykins (i)        86,050          0          0     34,760      59,481


District E                Raised     In-Kind      Loan      Spent     On Hand
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Dave Martin (i)           72,900          0          0     14,045      94,758


District F                Raised     In-Kind      Loan      Spent     On Hand
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Steve Le                      NA
Richard Nguyen (i)        77,095      1,352          0    16,457       73,347


District G                Raised     In-Kind      Loan      Spent     On Hand
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Sandie Mullins Moger      15,920      1,550          0      8,035       8,617
Greg Travis               16,635          0     41,000    29,773       34,395


District H                Raised     In-Kind      Loan      Spent     On Hand
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Roland Chavez             48,669      5,235      5,100     5,573       48,415
Karla Cisneros            30,095      5,272          0    13,956       24,647
Jason Cisneroz            33,000      2,174          0    14,611       18,738
Abel Davila                6,500          0          0     9,046       17,453


District I                Raised     In-Kind      Loan      Spent     On Hand
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Robert Gallegos (i)       62,655      3,000          0     21,475      91,014


District J                Raised     In-Kind      Loan      Spent     On Hand
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Jim Bigham                    45          0          0         51          45
Mike Laster (i)           85,550      1,711          0     14,081     157,061


District K                Raised     In-Kind      Loan      Spent     On Hand
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Larry Green (i)          110,270          0          0     29,135     137,117



Vacation Prep: The Weird Part

In addition to United Airlines grounding their fleet for the second time in a month (yesterday), here’s more Minnesota madness that I get to content with:

» CNN: Bear at Minnesota Zoo causes brief scare by smashing viewing glass

In somewhat related news, the director of the Minnesota Zoo is headed to Houston. No word if he plans to bring along the monkey rebellion with him.

» Star-Tribune: Air pollution warning expanded in Minnesota due to smoke from Canadian wildfires

For the sake of completeness, the state Capitol in St. Paul is closed to the public while they do interior renovations. Good thing I can still take in all those statues around the Capitol mall, I suppose. Also, mudslides along the Mississippi look like they’ll make for some interesting detours to get to some parks and river walkways.

And with that, I’m off to find out exactly how excruciating of an ordeal it can be to deal with TSA, reservations made by Orbitz, DOS attacks on United Airlines’ system, and other atrocities known to world travelers.

One Foot Still in Houston: City Fundraising Announcements

I haven’t left Houston just yet, so it’s worth taking note of the markers that the city candidates are putting down for their fundraising results.

Garcia was first out of the gate with his figures, announcing a $1.5 million haul Tuesday afternoon. According to his campaign, Garcia neither contributed his own money nor transferred funds from his sheriff’s account.

King followed with a statement Wednesday morning saying he raised $1.25 million, $750,000 of which came from donors, meaning King likely supplied $500,000 for his own bid.

Costello also financed his own campaign to the tune of $250,000 and transferred $262,000 from his city council account, according to his release.

That’s just the Mayoral numbers. The Controller’s race is obviously well below the radar, but there are more than two viable candidates in that race, also. If the results are anywhere near what they are in the Mayoral race, it’s quite obvious that someone is going to raise a whole heckuvalotta money, run a better race than Peter Brown ever ran, and still miss out on a spot in the runoff.

And just as obviously, there’s going to be some nit-picking over how the reports are filed: how much is in-kind contributions, how much is transferred from other campaign funds, self-funded, or family-funded. And things like burn rate, donor names, and other piddly details are enough to eat up my free time when I get back from the Twin Cities. But fear not – eventually the voters get a say in whether any of that matters.

Vacation Prep: The Easy Part

In lieu of any truly meaningful blogging, I thought I’d start with some pre-vacation items. The wheels go up for me Thursday morning. Dog-sitter has already been procured. And I’ve taken the radical step of purchasing a piece of luggage. After checking the memory banks, it seems the last real vacation I had was to Toronto in 2000. About all I know to expect for my first post-9/11 flight is to arrive early, take off the shoes, and rely on the hotel for shampoo and conditioner.

The biggest reason that the Twin Cities is a destination of interest for me is to visit Woodland Hills Church in St. Paul. I’ve been listening to podcasts of Greg Boyd’s sermons since sometime after he was profiled in the NY Times in 2006. And the first time I read the article, I wasn’t particularly swayed. I wasn’t looking for another Jim Wallis to listen to. But I eventually gave him a listen and his messages grew on me rather quickly. I picked up the book he was known for at the time – “The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power Is Destroying the Church” – and it resonated pretty strongly. I’m sure there are those who would still classify Boyd as a crazy liberal evangelical. But I’ve never been disappointed that I didn’t make the time to listen to each week’s message. Since then, the podcast-listening hasn’t been as routine. But Woodland Hills has remained on something akin to a bucket list. So that’s my Saturday. To set the vacation mood, this little blog post of Boyd’s is worth the time.

Outside of that, my vacation criteria were rather simple: get to another plot of geography outside the state. If for no other reason than to say I’ve actually set foot outside of Texas. And make sure there’s enough big-city accoutrements to satisfy my exploratory curiosity. So, with all due regards to Podunk, Idaho, I’m off to a big city with the following agenda items somewhere on my to-do list:

» Mall of America – This really goes without saying.

» See the St. Paul Saints – The Twins are in town while I’m there. But where’s the fun in that? The Saints are partly owned by none other than Bill Murray. Yes, Ghostbusters Bill Murray. And all I know otherwise about the team is that the catcher is the only .400 hitter in the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball (the only Texas teams being the Grand Prairie AirHogs and the Amarillo Thunderheads). Lucky me, I get to catch the Ottawa Champions.

» Stone Arch Bridge – And about a handful of other places to see the Mississippi River up close.

» Ride a bike – The Twin Cities has a pretty robust bike share program and given that much of my sightseeing falls conveniently in each downtown area, biking it makes the most sense.

» Whitesnake – They happen to be in town Saturday night. Coincidence?

Obviously, there are loads of other details to take up time. I’ll try and save a few as a surprise.

A Fine Time to Move

I picked a heck of a week-plus to get my stuff (and dog, and myself) moved back to Houston. Let’s see:

– KHOU polled Houstonians on their preference for Mayor. Looking forward to seeing what this “Don’t Know” dude’s position is on fixing potholes.

– Yet another senseless hate crime is carried out in a way that is too maddeningly common. As a result, the confederate flag falls – in southern state capitols, Amazon, and Bo & Luke’s car. Never underestimate what a confused 21-yr old hillbilly can accomplish in this world.

– Obamacare survives another challenge with the Supreme Court. The Bush-appointed/conservatives-celebrated Chief Justice wrote the opinion on why. Some heads exploded. Scalia among them.

– Greece somehow managed to knock my brokerage account down a couple of percentage points in one day. Good thing I was too busy schlepping boxes to check in and join in on the panic.

– We finally get an answer to what happens when investigators find heretofore unreleased records from Hillary Clinton. And unless references to hanging up fax lines is code for “let the embassy burn,” wingnuts are sure to be disappointed.

– Oh, and gays can marry.

On the plus side, I’ve managed to successfully install cable and internet in my apartment, the dog is confused by her new surroundings, the office gets a remodel this week, and I still need to plan a vacation agenda down to the nanosecond.

Topical commentary should pick back up from here on out.

CoH 2015: Southwest Houston Council Challenges

I’m long overdue for catching up on the City of Houston campaign season. My plan was to take a deeper dive into the subject after my vacation in a few weeks. But it’s worth pointing out that both city council members representing SW Houston will have primary challenges this election. Today’s entry happened with District J, with Sharpstown Civic Association President Jim Bigham jumping into the race against incumbent, Mike Laster. Prior to that, District F incumbent Richard Nguyen drew an opponent in physician Steve Le.

Together with an open (and crowded) Mayor’s race, it should be interesting to watch. For whatever it matters or proves to be worth, here’s my post showing the partisan inclination of City Council voting districts.

About That San Antonio Election

I’m obviously still running days and weeks behind on a lot of election/campaign news going on. In the case of the San Antonio mayoral race, I’m only a few days behind. With that, here are the three traditional views of the results (map courtesy of the Express-News):

» San Antonio Express-News: Taylor dominated key voting precincts
» Texas Tribune: Taylor’s San Antonio Win a Wake-Up Call for Democrats

SAN ANTONIO MAYOR
----------------------------------------
Ivy R. Taylor  .......... 50,659 (51.7%) 
Leticia Van De Putte .... 47,328 (48.3%) 

There’s obviously a great deal of angst expressed by folks who (like me) supported Leticia Van de Putte. In particular, a lot of that is directed at “those lazy people who don’t vote.” I’ll offer one contrarian take to this and be done with it. I’ve worked on campaigns that have won and lost. I’ve worked on campaigns where I had a negligible impact on that outcome and those where I’ve had a bit more. But I know enough to say that when you’ve lost, the first questions shouldn’t be aimed at voters who didn’t support you. I guarantee you that there had to be something the LVP campaign wishes they had done differently that had an impact on the election. I doubt that lack of money was a significant issue for the campaign. So, as much as it pains me, there should have been a better campaign run. Period. That doesn’t seem to reflect what’s getting written about, but I hope the folks who go from LVP’s campaign to work on other campaigns operates on that basis in their next campaign.

The oddity of it all, for me, is that San Antonio seems to be the most fought-over mayor’s seat that involves a City Manager form of government. There have certainly been mayors in San Antonio’s recent history that have exceeded what most weakish-mayor systems tend to produce. But still. San Antonio will be fine.

The Exit Door (part 3)

Well, that’s one way to announce your retirement:

As others have noted, there are only three remaining GOP members of the House that helped elect Joe Straus Speaker in 2009: Charlie Geren, Byron Cook, and Straus himself. Geren and Cook are certain to have challenging primary elections. But the good news for Straus is that he’s been doing a sufficient job of winning support among caucus-mates further to his right. It says something that the last two challengers for Straus’ speakership were junior members of the caucus who barely knew either the House rule book or legislative process. There’s a way of looking at the original base of Straus’ support and seeing his time as Speaker being limited. But there hasn’t really been a big hue and cry for change among the GOP caucus. So I wouldn’t expect to see a change given retirements like that of Keffer, or even after a few primary losses.

Bud Kennedy gets the reaction on Keffer’s announcement from Mike Lang, who had expected to challenge Keffer. I’d expect to see a few more credible names line up for the seat now that it’s open.

CORRECTION: Unfortunately, former Rep. Ed Kuempel passed away in 2010 and was replaced by his son. The third member of the “Gang of 11” that remains, is Joe Straus himself. The correction has been made in the post above.

ADD-ON: It’s not legislative, but it’s of some intrigue – Michael Massengale (1st Court of Appeals, Place 8) will challenge Supreme Court justice Debra Lehrmann for the GOP nomination in 2016. If nothing else, that creates an open seat on the multi-county 1st CoA. That court has the same jurisdiction as the 14th CoA and here’s what the 2012 and 2008 results look like for those courts (GOP results on the left column, Dems on the right column):

2012 General Election

1st Court of Appeals District
Place 2   Bland(I)      869,923  (53.3%)   Lovett       762,619  (46.7%)
Place 6   Brown(I)      871,073  (53.4%)   Silverman    758,993  (46.6%)
Place 7   Jennings      872,095  (53.5%)   Oakes        757,166  (46.5%)
Place 8   Massengale(I) 875,473  (53.8%)   Copeland     752,158  (46.2%)
Place 9   Huddle(I)     870,117  (53.4%)   Cheng        759,483  (46.6%)

14th Court of Appeals District
Place 3   Busby         851,386  (52.3%)   Gardner      777,867  (47.7%)
Place 4   Brown(I)      882,666  (54.2%)   Wrotenbery   744,530  (45.8%)
Place 5   Jamison(I)    879,147  (54.0%)   Garth        748,127  (46.0%)
Place 8   Donovan       857,843  (52.7%)   Maldonado    771,367  (47.4%)

2008 General Election

1st Court of Appeals District
Place 3   Hubbard       776,587  (49.4%)   Sharp        794,759  (50.6%)
Place 5   Higley(I)     802,668  (51.2%)   Taylor       763,840  (48.8%)

14th Court of Appeals District
C. Justice Hedges(I)    798,272  (51.0%)   Beverly      768,045  (49.0%)
Place 4   Brown(I)      806,648  (51.6%)   Moser        756,035  (48.4%)
Place 6   Boyce(I)      793,829  (50.8%)   Markantonis  768,014  (49.2%)
Place 7   Frost(I)      790,831  (50.7%)   Siegel       770,586  (49.4%)

While those numbers are close and Jim Sharp managed to win a majority in 2008, the real trick to winning this district is to see (at minimum) a 53% win in Harris County and some slight upticks in the other counties. Seeing Ft. Bend County go 50-50 would still leave you short without the smaller counties chipping in a point or two. It’s still a good court to run for in the hopes that the tide turns, but it’s a challenge to run with the aim of picking off your own crossover votes. Sharp obviously benefited from his last name. I worked on the Siegel campaign in 2008 and we ran cable ads in the hope of getting some crossover votes. I think I can make an argument that it happened, but it definitely didn’t happen in large enough numbers. And whether you believe that the 2008 level support is there in 2016 or whether 2012 is more reflective of the new normal is definitely a factor for consideration.