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District J Candidate Conversation (and upcoming events)

The Access Channel debate for District J:

The week ahead has three more opportunities to see and hear from District J candidates:

- Tonight 6:30pm: Sharpstown Civic Association Candidate Forum (Bayland Park Community Center)
- Saturday 10am: Sharpstown Democrats (Bayland Park Community Center)
- Tuesday 7pm: Moving Forward Candidate Forum - (Riceville Mt. Olive Baptist Church - 11539 S. Gessner Rd.)


The Non-Campaign for Houston Mayor

Keeping up with the DVR project mentioned earlier, I recently made it a point last week to clear out some space on the DVR by catching up on logging some TV newscast ad placements by political folks.

You'll recall that as campaign finance reports came due back in July, we had a sense of which candidates would have enough money to do any kind of significant voter communication. With four candidates closing the period with over $1M in the bank (and Ben Hall writing a big enough check to himself to have $800k), some folks were excused for their over-exuberance in expecting a flood of campaign advertising. And you would have thought that more than one candidate would make news by going up on television sooner rather than later.

No dice.

There's an operating truism in most campaigns that you won't meet enough people in-person to win an election. There's just no way. If you knock on doors, you're lucky to get a 40% rate of people opening their doors. If you make phone calls, you may get somewhere between 5-25% rate of people answering and/or listening to what you hope is a meaningful pitch for your candidate. If you make the rounds at all the events, forums, other people's fundraisers that you can crash, or National Night Out events, you run into the same 500 people (or however many people you want to attribute) throughout the city that attend such events. All in all, these points of contact aren't nothing. And every campaign should do these activities. But that sets the floor for how many people you actually see one-on-one. There just isn't a path available that ends up with these methods of outreach touching enough people to meaningful swing an election.

That reality seems to go out the window in City of Houston elections, though. Without a doubt, every candidate goes home late at night, worn out from the schedule they've put themselves through. Campaign staff - also presumably - works as late as possible either running a phone bank; scrounging up volunteers; writing copy for screening committees that will scan them and news departments that will largely ignore them; and staffing a candidate for the sheer joy of peddling push cards to event attendees who have already made up their minds for whom they'll vote. From a campaign's perspective, it's very easy to convince yourself that there is a very real campaign going on.

Except that, in Houston there isn't much of a campaign going on. For anything. With four Mayoral candidates showing seven-figure bank accounts and the promise that multiple candidates in an open seat election would lead to a hefty increase in voter turnout, I'm not convinced.

There are really two methods of communicating with voters that, to me, demonstrates a visible campaign: mail and television. I haven't seen a single piece of mail in my own mailbox. By all means feel free to drop a comment if you're seeing anything in yours. I'm informed that mail is dropping in my own Council District, but for whatever reason, I'm not getting any.

Granted, my residence is an apartment. Those doors don't exactly get knocked on a lot. And I have no idea which databases have my current cell number, but I'm not terribly eager for a phone pitch for any candidate anyway. The long and short of this is that it's not like I live in an area where you can tell it's election season simply by walking the dog and counting yard signs, volunteers knocking on doors, or sending annoying phone calls to voice mail every weekend.

What is more unavoidable, however, is mail and television advertising. In this regard, Stephen Costello is the only candidate who has run any semblance of a functional campaign so far. And that's all courtesy of television ads. And that's all reliant up an ad buy that has been fairly weak in the past two weeks.

So, I've been recording the following newscasts:
- Channel 2 - 6am news
- Channel 13 - 6pm news
- Channel 11 and 13 - 10pm news

Here's what the ad placement has looked like through Sunday:

2015 Houston Mayoral Ad Spending through 9/20/15

Three caveats:

- Sylvester Turner apparently went up on television as of yesterday.

- I'm conveniently ignoring cable advertising (news or otherwise). Apparently Bill King has bet his entire television advertising to date on cable. Costello's buy has been supplemented with cable, and Turner's purchase will also be supplemented with cable. Cable isn't nothing, but what is generally unknown is what cable outlets are purchased. It may very well be that either a campaign or ad buyer may see fit to buy just Comcast. But Comcast's share of market has been in decline since I bought it for candidates back in 2008. And the overall dollar amounts I'm seeing for candidates so far doesn't suggest their putting an enormous priority on it. Long story short, I view these buys as "something," but not a game-changer in terms of how much presence they have. And for the record, I've not seen a single ad placed on anything I've recorded from basic cable (which isn't much).

- My selection of newscasts is not designed to be exhaustive. It is simply a cross-section. The selection of any particular channel at any given time is debatable. I just wanted to cover those three parts of the day and ensure that I covered the big three channels. Sorry KRIV!

I'm certain that the remainder of the campaign will get more crowded on the airwaves and in the mailbox. But my point in declaring this year's campaign a bust is that we've now less than a month away from Early Voting. We know about what percentage of voters will cast their vote early. And the level of communication with voters has been about as minimal as can possibly exist.

The net result is that the large and diverse field running for Mayor will do next-to-nothing to drive up turnout - in and of itself. the real campaign will be the runoff and that's a much shorter campaign. And it will probably have a quiet period right after November 3rd as campaigns look to find a second round of funding to get back in gear.

It's also worth noting that there is nothing on television promoting the HERO proposition. That's even more concerning. I believe the anti-HERO narrative has enough strength through word-of-mouth networks and right-wing radio to boost turnout against the proposition. But there is simply nothing happening to counteract that. I hope I'm ultimately wrong, but I wouldn't want to bet big at this moment on Prop 1 passing in November. That one doesn't have a runoff to extend the conversation another 4-5 weeks. So November is a much harder deadline.

There are a lot of challenges that campaigns - even those with $1M on hand - have in running a visible and viable campaign. In short, $1M really doesn't go very far in a city like Houston. That has a lot to do with why we know precious little about city council candidates or candidates for Controller. But the side effect of that big field of candidates is that the money seems to be spread fairly thin among the top-tier candidates.

Maybe the 30-day finance reports will shed some new light on what campaigns are doing well, what they're doing right, or which candidates shouldn't be trusted with the city's budget based on how they're operating their campaign budget. In the meantime, most of the voters will just wait for a campaign to say something meaningful to them. A lot of time has ticked off the clock already, though.


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.


Seeing the Saints

I have yet to see an Astros game in-person as an American League entity. But tomorrow involves catching this team in their new stadium in downtown St. Paul.


Nice Ride: The Musical

On the topic of the Twin Cities' bike share program, I think it's safe to say that I will not be singing while pedaling.


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.

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