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.

(Sorta) New Year Resolutions

In some ways, the day after a legislative session feels like New Years Day – if it only happened every 18 months. It’s time to move back to Houston. It’s time to see if my dog being house-trained is a fluke or not and it’s time to flesh out the home with a few more items that were put off until I had a fresh 18-month clock to enjoy them (namely, a big fat recliner that I can occasionally fall asleep in with my hound dog). The session also takes me out of my weekly volunteer routine at church, although I do manage to get back for random weekends. Hopefully they’ll have me back on a regular basis in a few weeks.

So, in addition to taking a proper vacation for the first time in over a decade, I thought I’d take the time to list a few more things I’m hoping to accomplish over the next 18 months:

Reading: If I really wanted to get nerdy about things, I could chart my life by the amount of reading I get done to the amount of driving I do. It’s a perfectly inverse relationship: whenever I had a car and a long commute, I got very little reading done. Whenever I relied on a METRO pass to and fro, I got a jack-ton of reading done. Currently, there’s a car and a short work commute (and the occasional urge to go shopping some place further than my local Fiesta). I may need to dust off the library card, sort through the Kindle, and carve out some time. But these are all doable things. Around the time of my move last year, the plan was to add a basset hound to the equation and I knew that would also suck up some free time. It did, but the training is now paying off. Elsie still needs play time from me, but I no longer have to spend an insane amount of time patrolling a very small apartment for things she’s chewed up or pooped on. Bottom line: I can no longer state a good reason for why I’m not going through at least one book every two weeks given all of my time constraints. I think this will just take some will-power to get back into the habit. I’m off to an abysmal start with the first two assignments, but proper shaming can wait until I’m back to having a 3 minute commute to work.

Writing: Yes, the blog and Almanac both need some pixels typed into them. But I’m actually thinking something more like this from a habit I developed somewhere around 2009-10:

2010-06-19-18.10

Seems that there used to be a project promoted by a church I listen to via podcast that involved a group of people devoted to transcribing books of the Bible. I gave this a shot on my own at the time and it was rewarding in a lot of different ways. I seem to have maintained a habit of collecting composition books with the intention of doing this again … without actually starting up again with the writing. So this gets added to the list of things to get back in gear with.

Recording: Tops on the “big expense” items that I’ve held off on until the Lege wrapped up is an upgrade of recording gear and a few new additions to the guitar gear. I’ve wanted to take a few ideas that I’ve recorded and flesh them out into fuller songs. Technically, there’s nothing stopping me from doing that with the equipment I already have. But the biggest impediment I currently have is the memory limitation on my 8-track recorder. It seems that the type of SD card it takes is limited and behind the times. If I wanted to stock up on 2GB cards, I’d be spending a small fortune to overpay for the privilege. And importing/exporting is a chore. So I’m upgrading that bit of hardware and creating a setup that lets me record a mic’d up amplifier rather than the more limiting tone of a direct line into the recorder (essentially the difference of hearing your guitar emulate something closer to a motorcycle rather than a bunch of angry bees). The amplifier and recording device are the easy decisions. The harder decision seems to be the microphones (what kind and how to use them properly) as well as the fine art of re-amping. I’m looking forward to it, though. There may be some unloading of guitar gear that I currently have in stock just to offset the crazy expense of new equipment that far exceeds the skill and talent I have to play and compose music.

More trips to the dog park: Elsie has long since made her proper introductions at the Danny Jackson Dog Park on Westpark. But her time there was bracketed by virtue of her young age and being in heat shortly before we left for Austin. So we’ve probably only managed to visit the place a handful of times last year. Little Elsie is now accustomed to a big backyard and a larger dog that she shares our Austin home with. I think we’re going to have to work in multiple trips to the park per week to compensate for her more isolated home life in Houston. The time commitment for a leash-free romp in the park is the least of my concerns. The need to bathe Elsie after each trip is the biggest issue.

That’s a sizable enough list of things that I’d hate to admit defeat over. With some amount of effort, there will be snippets and reviews from the reading list, music samples, cute puppy pictures from the dog park, and maybe some weekend posts updating the writing project. If not … who knows. Maybe just pictures of me and Elsie zonked out on the recliner.

The Exit Door (part 2)

Following up from the initial retirement/”moving on” list

Sen. Kevin Eltifemakes it official that he’s leaving. Expect to see half of East Texas run for the seat.

Rep. Bryan Hughes & Rep. David Simpson – will be among the list of candidates seeking to replace Eltife. Outgoing SBOE member Thomas Ratliff’s name is still a “maybe.”

Among the replacements …

Dr. Tom Oliverson has announced his plans to replace Rep. Allen Fletcher. The fake quote that accompanies his press release reads as follows:

“I am running for State Representative to fight for our conservative values. As a small business owner, I understand first hand that small businesses are the engines that drive our economy. I will fight to promote free markets and end burdensome regulations that cripple our businesses and hurt the Texas economy. I will unapologetically defend the life of the unborn, fight for lower property taxes, protect our border, be an advocate for education reform, and defend our 2nd Amendment rights.”

I’m real interested to learn about those burdensome regulations that cripple Texas businesses. Sounds like the past 20+ years of single-party Republican rule have been a bit of a failure according to their own standards.

Previously mentioned, but Kevin Roberts of the Lanier Law Firm will be seeking Patricia Harless’ HD126. The Lanier connection could make him an interesting member to watch, if he succeeds.

Former Longview mayor Jay Dean will reportedly seek Simpson’s seat. At first glance, he seems to be an improvement over most in the Lege. But in fairness to our friends in East Texas, HD1’s Gary VanDeaver election in 2014 was a good head start on improving the other caucus.

HoundTV: Elsie vs Deer

I figured it was inevitable that little Elsie would run across a deer while we were living in Austin. And this technically is her second encounter with suburban-dwelling deer. The first time involved the family of deer running away anytime Elsie got withing 50 feet. This is from May 31st – and we finally had some interaction between the animals.

I like to think that Elsie saved the neighborhood from this (and two other) deer this day. But that would involve putting up statues in Elsie’s honor – 14-inch high statues. And people would just trip all over those.

The Exit Door

The Almanac is still a thing, but I figured the current round of legislative retirements deserves a dedicated working space. With that, here’s who’s moving on to better and brighter things:

Rep. Allen Fletcher (R – NW Harris County) – was hoping to get the appointed gig for Harris County Sheriff, but has made it known that he’d be running for it in 2016 regardless. He also gave his going-away speech toward the end of the legislative session. District is about as safe as it gets for GOP – no known names for the seat come to mind.

Rep. Sylvester Turner (D – NW Harris County) – running for Houston mayor for the third time. Also preached his going-away speech during the final days of the lege. Safe Dem seat and there will be a long line of potential replacements. Biggest name to date is HISD trustee Rhonda Skillern-Jones.

Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R – Bell County) – gave his going-away speech in the closing days of the Lege. No known names for the seat early on, but the district has potential for a Democratic pickup in 2016 (followed by an almost certain return to GOP control in a non-Presidential year).

Rep. Joe Farias (D – Bexar County) – gave his going-away speech in the closing days of the Lege. Like Aycock’s seat, the district has some potential for swinging to the other party.

Sen. Troy Fraser (R – Central Texas) – announced via letter to Senators after the legislative session. Rep. Aycock was asked to consider running for the seat by Fraser’s campaign manager, but declined. There shouldn’t be a shortage of candidates for this seat, but the field could be thinned out by fundraising ability. Of some interest is that former Representative (and failed Comptroller nominee) Harvey Hilderbran represented the southern portion of the Senate District.

Rep. Patricia Harless (R – NW Harris County) – announced on June 8 that she would not run again. District is safe GOP. Two names to watch for may be Harless’ husband (who toyed with a run for SD7 after Dan Patrick announced for Lt. Gov). Former HD126 candidate John Devine has since successfully run for state Supreme Court. The only semi-announced candidate thus far is attorney, Kevin Roberts.

And in other activity:

Thomas Ratliff (R – East Texas) – announced he would not run for re-election to the State Board of Education.

Sen. Kevin Eltife (R – East Texas) – hasn’t announced whether or not he’ll run for re-election. But State Rep. David Simpson is rumored to be running for the GOP nomination regardless. Outgoing State Board of Education member Thomas Ratliff has said he would consider running if Eltife opted to retire.

Rep. J.D. Sheffield (R – North Central Texas) – Rep. Sheffield has a very visible voting record that allows him to be identified as a moderate in a GOP primary. But his speech against the Schaefer amendment that would ban abortions of fetuses with genetic abnormalities after 20 weeks gave even more ammunition to opponents. Rep. Jonathan Stickland announced via twitter that “[t]his could be Rep. Sheffields last speech on the #txlege floor.” Stephenville realtor Brent Graves announced his intention to challenge Sheffield prior to the end of the legislative session.

Rep. Jim Keffer (R – North Texas) – Hasn’t made an announcement. Michael Quinn Sullivan seems to believe he will retire rather than face another tough primary challenge (allegedly from RR Commish David Porter). That may be wishful thinking on Sullivan’s part, however.

Rep. Charlie Geren (R – Tarrant County) – Hasn’t made an announcement. Presumed to be running again. But already has a primary challenge. Given the growing strength of the Tea Party in Tarrant County and more relaxed campaign finance laws (not to mention Geren’s pointed opposition to same), it could potentially be more entertaining than prior primary challenges against Geren.

Updates are a given …

The Joys of Bracketing

A minor tidbit of legislative work to share from the past five months:

Legislative Director typically entails reading a fair amount of legislation. That’s about as exciting as it sounds. And even more mundane is that a good deal of legislation is “bracketed” so that it only applies to certain counties, cities, school districts, etc…. After a while, you pick up a lot of the easy-to-guess brackets, like Harris County being “a county of over 4 million.” But some locations require more creativity. And when you factor in a fight over a pet project, the added spite makes that creativity a bit more comical.

With that, I offer my favorite bracket of all time – offered as an amendment to an amendment by Rep. Jason Isaac (R – Hays County) after taking offense to Rep. Matt Rinaldi (R – NW Dallas County) arguing against an economic incentive fund. The solution: don’t allow it to be used in the bulk of Rinaldi’s legislative district:

Amend amendment by Rinaldi to CSHB 1 (page 43, prefiled amendments packet) by adding the following appropriately numbered item and renumbering subsequent items accordingly:

(_) None of the funds appropriated above to Strategies C.1.1, Economic Development; and C.1.2, Tourism can be used for projects located in a city with a population under 750,000 people according to the 2010 census and located within a 5 mile radius of an international airport with three active flight towers.

It was the first time I’ve seen a bracket definition incorporate either a radius or airport flight towers. And in fairness to Rep. Isaac, he did seem to leave a good portion of HD115 eligible for economic development funds (blue blob = HD115; yellow line = 5 mile radius from DFW Airport):

fivemile

Summer Reading 2015

Long days in the Lege managed to kill off a lot of my normal reading time. If you’d like, I can provide countless hours of very abnormal committee hearing notes that have occupied much of that time. But for the summer ahead, there are a few items on the reading list to make up for lost time. And you should know that the sole purpose of posting this is to shame myself into actually reading these for fear that someone will ask me about them (what with all the dinner parties I attend).

» Red Tape: Its Origins, Uses, and Abuses
by Herbert Kaufman
I actually forgot I ordered this since I pre-ordered it several months prior to release. Which is remarkable since the book is a reprint of a 1977 book.

As far as subject matter goes, the book keeps me planted pretty close to the Political Science/Public Administration realm. Which is just as well since I’ve got two partially-read college texts on the subject to mow through over the next 18 months. I’ve put off buying James Q. Wilson’s “Bureaucracy” to fill this need for reading material. So I’m hoping that it absolves me of the need to buy more lit in this genre when it’s all said and done.

» Ecstatic Nation: Confidence, Crisis, and Compromise, 1848-1877
by Brenda Wineapple
I wish there was some majestical reason I could give for picking this book out of the herd, but the reality is that it came with a $3.79 price tag that went very well with my itch to read more about Reconstruction-era history.

 

 

Vacation, All I Ever Wanted

One more legislative session is out of the way. One thing that definitely feels overdue is the need for an actual vacation. So, no sooner than I get my stuff moved back into a new place in Houston, I’ll be packing up for a few days in the Twin Cities of Minnesota (a poor man’s DFW, if you will). Most of time is penciled in for the St. Paul side of things, although Mall of America is an obligatory stop and I’ve noticed a timely Twins-Tigers series going on while I’m in town. The main draw for me is a visit to Woodland Hills Church in St. Paul. But I’m spending a lot of my free time listing other possible things to do, see, eat, or experience. If you know of anything worthwhile to do in either Minneapolis of St. Paul, feel free to let me know.