Showing posts sorted by relevance for query bettencourt. Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query bettencourt. Sort by date Show all posts

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Bettencourt sued over provisional ballots *update*

Final Update: Alas, the results don't change. But the TDP will press forward on Bettencourt's shady actions...

(Wednesday morning at 10 a.m.), at the federal district court hearing regarding the disposition of provisional ballots in Harris County, tax assessor/collector Paul Bettencourt’s attorneys told the court that his office had processed all of the provisional ballots by 7:00 a.m. Wednesday morning. Additionally, Bettencourt informed the media that he had actually finished the ballot process the afternoon before the hearing. However, the Harris County Ballot Board received additional ballots as late as 4:00 p.m. after the hearing, in direct conflict with what Bettencourt’s attorney told U.S. district judge Gray Miller.

"For some time now, Paul Bettencourt’s unusual effort to reject legitimate voter registration applications has raised public concerns, but misleading a court of law for partisan purposes would be beneath contempt," said Texas Democratic Party Chairman Boyd Richie. "Whether Paul Bettencourt is incompetent or indifferent, neither is a legitimate excuse."

Furthermore, we have received reports that Bettencourt had a private meeting with Harris County Republican Party chair Jared Woodfill the Wednesday after Election Day, after which Bettencourt’s processing of provisional ballots slowed to a near halt, despite a state law that requires complete processing of provisional ballots by the Friday after Election Day. Then yesterday, at least two witnesses observed Woodfill and an unidentified Anglo male in a private meeting with the Republican ballot board chairman, Jim Harding, between 4:00 and 5:00 p.m., just hours after the District Court assumed jurisdiction of the matter. Additionally, we have received reports Bettencourt personally called Harding and berated him regarding his comments in today’s Houston Chronicle.

In response to these reports, the Texas Democratic Party General Counsel has sent a letter to Harris County Republican Party Chairman Jared Woodfill asking him to report his actions to Judge Miller.

Further developments in future postings. More at Off the Kuff.

: Bettencourt got his job done, so the court action scheduled for this morning was rendered moot. But the implications on two judicial races hang in the balance, with the last votes being counted even as I post this:

In a miniature version of the 2000 Florida vote drama, election officials prepared to work late tonight toward counting the last leftover votes that could switch outcomes in two Harris County judicial elections.

The tedious work lurched forward when county voter registrar Paul Bettencourt delivered his reports on about 7,000 ballots that were cast by people not listed on the Election Day voter rolls. Some of those residents had been omitted from registration records by mistake, and their votes will be added to last week's totals.

Bettencourt's move led Democratic Party officials to drop their request today for a judge to order him to complete the tallies and open his staff's work to monitors. However, Democrats said they will press ahead next year with the part of their lawsuit that accuses Bettencourt, a Republican, of illegally rejecting voter registration applications.

He sent his work on the 7,000 or so provisional ballots to a bipartisan ballot board that will decide which ones will be added to the Nov. 4 vote total. About 1,400 of the 7,000 are expected to qualify for addition to elections for countywide offices, election officials said, in addition to about 400 ballots sent by overseas voters.

If those ballots contain votes on judicial elections, they could reverse the outcome in two contests where fewer than 600 votes separated the winners and losers as of last week. ...

Democratic candidate Goodwille Pierre, who trailed Republican state District Judge Joseph "Tad" Halbach by fewer than 600 votes, said he had faith the new totals will make him a new judge.

"I believe it will definitely show that we are ahead," he said.

In the other closest race, Republican state District Judge Elizabeth Ray trailed Democratic challenger Josefina Muniz Rendon by 135 votes.

After a court hearing today on the Democrats' lawsuit, their lawyer, Chad Dunn, implied that Bettencourt had dragged his feet on processing the provisional ballots as the deadline for counting them neared.

"We are disappointed ... that it took a lawsuit to get Mr. Bettencourt to do his job," he said. "The Texas Democratic Party will consistently stand up for the voters' right to cast a ballot and have it be counted."

Alan Bernsten's report from last night is in full below. I won't comment on it for now except to note that I don't expect to be a party to this myself, but know some who will:

Texas Democratic Party officials are asking a federal judge in Houston to block what they call illegal moves by Harris County voter registrar Paul Bettencourt as the last few votes are added to the totals from the Nov. 4 election.

U.S. District Judge Gray Miller was scheduled to consider the complaint against Republican Bettencourt at 10 a.m. today.

Bettencourt, who was re-elected last week as county tax assessor-collector, denied the allegations in general Tuesday. He said he had to withhold specific comments until he read the lawsuit and consulted with outgoing County Attorney Mike Stafford.

With two judicial races in potential limbo because they were decided by a few hundred votes, the lawsuit focuses on about 7,000 ballots that were cast before and during Election Day but have yet to be verified as ballots that can be added to the totals.

Called "provisional ballots," they were cast by voters whose names were not properly listed on voter rolls but who signed affidavits saying they nevertheless had properly registered.

A few hundred by-mail ballots sent by overseas voters also have been processed since the election. Those ballots could have been counted under state law if they arrived by Sunday.

No results from the overseas and accepted provisional ballots have been made public yet. The mailed ballots generally favor Republican candidates while the provisionals are expected to favor Democratic candidates, according to several political experts.

Since last week's election, Bettencourt's voter registration staff has been checking those provisional ballots against records and reported on each one to a ballot board, whose members are appointed by political parties. Technically, the board decides which votes will be added to the totals before the election results are made official by Commissioners Court, which is scheduled to accept the results Monday.

But, the Democratic officials said in the lawsuit, Bettencourt is providing incorrect information to the board, delaying the counting, refusing to let in observers and has illegally denied voter registrations.

The list of Democratic plaintiffs includes lawyer Goodwille Pierre, who trailed Republican state District Judge Joseph "Tad" Halbach by fewer than 600 votes in the election. In another civil court race, Republican Judge Elizabeth Ray trailed Democratic challenger Josefina Muniz Rendon by fewer than 200 votes.

About 1 million votes were cast in each of the two judicial races in which the opponents are currently separated by less than 1,000 votes.

Bettencourt said his staff would be done with the 7,000 or so ballots by late Tuesday — proof, he said, that he was not keeping the ballot board from making decisions by today, the flexible counting deadline suggested by state law.

Bettencourt said he gave a Democratic representative, Collyn Peddie, a tour of his provisional ballot processing system last week but refused on the advice of the Secretary of State's Office to allow anyone to serve as a monitor.

In an affidavit attached to the lawsuit, Peddie cast doubt on Bettencourt's system based on her one-hour presence. She said she saw provisional ballots "set aside" despite notes showing they had been cast by voters who had registered to vote at state Department of Public Safety offices.

The suit charges that Bettencourt may also be improperly blocking votes only because voters had listed commercial, rather than residential addresses and had not been given a chance to explain any discrepancy.

Bettencourt acknowledged to the Chronicle in July that a few voters' registrations had been delayed because they lived in new dwellings previously listed on property rolls as non-residential.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Yesterday's Bettenquit Follies

Houston's "blizzard" kept me from attending the TDP presser and from posting this update yesterday. Alan Bernstein was there and files this report (as they say on teevee). At the end of the excerpt are a couple of emphasized portions:

"Mr. Bettencourt's late-night resignation announcement is his attempt to avoid bringing to light the inner workings of his office over the past several years and still does not ensure that the problems surrounding Harris County voter registration will be resolved," the state (Democratic) party said Wednesday in a statement distributed by Houston lawyer Chad Dunn.

Republican Bettencourt, the tax assessor-collector, said it was ridiculous to suggest he and his staff purposely foiled voter registrations or that his resignation was triggered by the lawsuit.


Dunn, the Democrats' lawyer, said the lawsuit was expanded to, among other things, include as plaintiffs four people whose voter registration applications were stymied by what the party calls the county's "unlawful and hyper-technical voters registration activities." The lawsuit alleges Bettencourt's staff has disenfranchised voters by using unwarranted technical reasons for rejecting their registration applications.

Bettencourt said the four were rejected for routine, justifiable reasons involving their paperwork, and that the registration system in the county works well.

"You are going to have mistakes made," he said. "What you do is fix them."

The bipartisan ballot board that decided whether to accept provisional ballots cast by voters whose names were missing from the Nov. 4 rolls accepted some that Bettencourt's staff had classified as incomplete. His staff was unable to get thousands of registrations onto the rolls before early voting.

Bettencourt apparently still will have to give pre-trial testimony in the lawsuit after this month and will be represented by the new county attorney, Democrat Vince Ryan.

That first part above is why I believe that a new tax assessor/collector/voter registrar deserves to be relieved of the VR portion of their job title. As explosive as the legal complaint of malfeasance is, the fact that thousands of people didn't get to vote because their paperwork (a postcard, mind you) couldn't get processed in time reveals a incompetence of the rankest order on the part of Bettencourt and his staff. Put aside the partisan rancor and even the alleged criminal mischief for a moment: can a new department head get this job done more effectively than an incumbent with several years of experience at it? I'd have to be pessimistic, no matter how talented that person may be.

Bettencourt kept the inner workings of the voter registration process as secretive as he could. The FNG is going to have to do many things better, and one is to open up the process to observers -- media, political party, and otherwise -- in a significant way. Not for nothing, but Beverly Kaufman has a few cycles of experience dealing with HCDP observers like myself and John Behrman (and others before us) analyzing the county's vote counting -- with us suggesting changes, arguing for more security, and so forth. She has -- grudgingly at times -- moved closer and closer to our requests for improved e-Slate integrity, including L&A and parallel testing, tightened chain-of-custody security, and more. She hasn't done every we have asked; she fights us some and slow-walks us too much, but she has certainly demonstrated far more openness and allowed more "sunshine" into the vote tabulation process conducted by her staff than Bettencourt ever had a nightmare about.

If commissioners court intends to seriously address the mess that is voter registration in Harris County, it will remove the task from the purview of the tax assessor/collector's office and give it to the county clerk.

As for Vince Ryan defending Paul Bettencourt against a TDP lawsuit, that is going to be comedy gold down the road.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Goodbye Bettencourt

Imagine my surprise:

Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Paul Bettencourt announced late Friday that he was resigning to pursue a private business venture.

The sudden announcement comes just a month after Bettencourt was reelected to his third term.

A simply remarkable demonstration of disrespect to the people of Harris County. Re-elected in a bitter contest over Diane Trautman a mere 30 days ago, Bettencourt cuts and runs now so that a majority of the Republicans on commissioner's court can pick the placeholder.

"I have spoken with Judge Emmett and told him of my intention to tender my resignation before Christmas. I want to give the Court time to address the vacancy and ensure an orderly transition," Bettencourt wrote.

He said he would issue a fuller statement next week. ...

His replacement will be appointed by Harris County Commissioners Court.

Bettencourt was the most partisan, the most rancorous, the most obstinate conservative left around these parts after we exorcised Tom DeLay. I am incensed at his timing, but couldn't be more happy about his departure whatever the reasons. As Gerry Birnberg notes, however, we haven't seen the last of him politically:

Bettencourt also drew criticism for his role of the voter registrar for Harris County.

He had been accused several times in recent years of overzealously purging the voter rolls and blocking new registrations. The Harris County Democratic Party sued Bettencourt last month, complaining of his handling of about 7,000 provisional ballots cast in the Nov. 4 election and accusing him of illegally rejecting voter registration applications. He denied any wrongdoing.

Friday night, Harris County Democratic Party Chairman Gerald Birnberg said he expected Bettencourt to resign at some point, believing he had an interest in statewide office.

"So, I had expected him to resign to run for another office or to be more involved in the radio business," Birnberg said. "It occurs to me that Paul is too deliberate for this to have occurred 'day before yesterday.' It has got to be something he was thinking about more than 30 days ago, before the election, and I am disappointed he did not share his plans with the voters." ...

Good riddance to bad rubbish.

Update: My top-of-the-morning prognostication is that the replacement will be former district clerk and vanquished Emmett opponent Charles Bacarisse, which could hardly be considered an improvement.

Update II: Even the stridently bipartisan and typically reserved Quorum Report seems a little taken aback:

Campaign contributors and supporters are no doubt stunned that Bettencourt used them to seek an office that he will not take. In his statement he says he received a private sector offer that he will accept despite having offered himself up for re-election. Ultimately the question will boil down to whether or not he knew when he filed that he did not intend to serve. Was his intention to simply leverage his name ID into a Republican win an an otherwise Democratic year while never intending to take the oath of office?

His statement does not clear up the mystery.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Tuesday's Bettencourt Follies

This promises to be the holiday gift that keeps on giving. First, the Texas Democratic Party will have a press conference tomorrow morning to announce the next step in their legal action against Paul Quittencourt:

Bettencourt's announcement that he would resign came suspiciously the day after additional legal activity was undertaken by the Texas Democratic Party—action which could shed light on misdeeds that have occurred within Bettencourt's office for years. It appears Paul Bettencourt is hoping that he can sneak off behind a late-night resignation announcement and the problems facing his office will simply go away. But that is not the case.

“The TDP will continue its efforts to bring accountability and transparency to the Harris County voter registration process. And Paul Bettencourt will have to take responsibility for any wrongdoing that has occurred within his office,” said TDP attorney Chad Dunn.

Wednesday December 10, at 10:30 a.m., at 1300 McGowen in Midtown. I'm going to try like hell to be there.

And Liz Peterson has a couple of interesting developments to report:

The Harris County Administration Building is still abuzz with rumors over who'll get picked to replace Tax Assessor-Collector Paul Bettencourt.

The most intriguing scenario mentioned so far involves the possible nomination of Commissioner Sylvia Garcia, who would give up her seat to position herself to challenge County Judge Ed Emmett in 2010 or to run for a statewide office.

Picking Garcia would give a Democrat control of the voter registration process, something that party has got to want. But Emmett would get to pick her replacement, likely giving the GOP a fourth seat at the table.

Garcia said the rumor is "absolutely not true."

Color me skeptical as well. But this is definitely more intriguing ...

The new Republican supermajority could just move the voter registration duties from the tax office to the County Clerk's office, headed by Republican Beverly Kaufman.

That idea, apart from any Garcia chatter, is already being circulated by Jim Harding, a Republican who chairs the county's bipartisan ballot board.

Last month, he blamed faulty work by Bettencourt's staff for delaying the counting process. Harding's comments triggered a bit of a brouhaha after Bettencourt left an emotional message on his answering machine.

In an e-mail to Commissioner Jerry Eversole, Kaufman and leaders of the Harris County Republican Party, Harding said such a move would "streamline all of the voter activity from initial registration to final certification of an election under County Clerk leadership."

This shift of responsibility seems to me to be distinctly possible, given the controversy of Bettencourt's tenure as voter registrar, the steadier reputation of Kaufman, and more significantly the rumors of her retirement before 2010, when the election of County Clerk is scheduled to appear on the ballot. I doubt Ms. Kaufman is anxious to take on the management of this rather large task at the end of her career. Furthermore, Councilwoman Sue Lovell is strongly rumored to be interested in the job, with Kaufman in the race or not (Kuffner notes Lovell has a few unfriendlies).

More juicy details in tomorrow's Follies, without a doubt.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Texas SOS, Harris registrar fall behind in processing voter registrations

But I'm sure there will be plenty of provisional ballots available:

Thousands of Texans who registered to vote a few weeks ago likely will find their names missing from official voter lists when early voting starts Monday for the Nov. 4 election, officials said.

The voters will be allowed to cast ballots but may have to fill out special forms at polling stations or wait a few days before voting, according to state and Houston-area election administrators.

Officials blame a deadline-beating rush of registration applications before Oct. 6, and maintenance to a computer database of Social Security numbers, for the fact that many registrations won't be processed in time for the early voting kickoff.

But praise be, tax assessor-collector/voter registrar Paul Bettencourt indicates that only 7000 Houston-area voters may be affected:

In Houston, about 70 employees in the voter registrar's office will work through the weekend to clear most of a backlog of about 30,000 applications, Tax Assessor-Collector Paul Bettencourt said Friday. Some will turn out to be valid, others duplicates or address changes for voters on the rolls.

But, he said, perhaps 7,000 applications from Harris County residents will require extra verification and probably won't be cleared before Monday, the first of 12 days of early voting at 36 county locations.

The Secretary of State's Office in Austin must also verify the applications, using driver's license and partial Social Security numbers, before voters are added to lists in each county of qualified voters. But as the state agency works through the weekend to handle applications submitted by counties, it will take about 24 hours to approve each new voter.

"We were keeping up very well with the increased load, but we started to run a little behind when the Social Security Administration closed their (computer program) down for maintenance last weekend," said Ashley Burton, spokeswoman for Secretary of State Hope Andrade. "Since the start of October there has been a huge increase in the number of new voter records that the counties have submitted for verification."

No information was available on the database outage, a Social Security spokeswoman in Dallas said Friday. Nor were statistics available from the state on what Burton called applications from "large amounts of new voters" outside Harris County.

So as the conservatives continue to drive themselves nuts over ACORN, the voter suppression efforts contine to be the real story locally. Bettencourt says that ten thousand people missed the deadline to vote in this election (note also the statistics I bolded below for future reference):

Many Harris County residents may not realize, until they try to vote, that their registrations were submitted or mailed too late for the Oct. 6 deadline.

About 10,000 such registrations will be added to the rolls for future elections, Bettencourt said, but those voters will be unqualified to vote in the Nov. 4 election for president, Congress, county officers and other government positions.

About 1.94 million voters will be eligible to cast ballots this year in Harris County, roughly the same number for the last presidential election. The statewide voter roll has edged up to 13.4 million, about 300,000 more than last time.

The Harris County election administrator, County Clerk Beverly Kaufman, said 300 or so staffers at early voting locations are prepared to assist residents who want to vote even though they may be missing from registration records.

For voters who present a voter registration card or other identification — no photo ID is needed — but whose name is absent from the voter rolls, election workers first will call Bettencourt's office to see if their registrations have been approved, Kaufman said. In many cases, voters will immediately be cleared to vote.

Voters whose names are not on the lists may also vote immediately after swearing, in a written provisional ballot form, that they registered. But their votes will be separated from the main ballot record, Kaufman said, and will be counted after Nov. 4, if their registration is verified.

Or perhaps they won't be counted at all. Seriously.

I'm going to do a little shouting now.

If your name does not appear on the voter roll when you go to vote, PLEASE DO NOT FILL OUT A PROVISIONAL BALLOT. Leave the polling place and call this number: 1-866-OUR VOTE (687-8683).

This is also why you should vote early; so that if there are "issues" with your registration, they can be cleared up -- hopefully -- in time for you to cast a ballot that counts (with at least as much faith as we are able to place in electronic voting systems, anyway). You don't want to be experiencing this circumstance at 6:45 p.m. on Election Day.

And remember when you do vote that Bettencourt's Democratic challenger is Dr. Diane Trautman.

Update: Charles Kuffner has more on why this is a problem in the very first place. Shorter version: it's all about the Bettencourt.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Harris judicial candidate Pierre sues to overturn November result

Because of the voting registration failures of Paul Bettencourt, of course:

The Democratic candidate who lost a Harris County judicial race by 230 votes last month is asking a court to make him the winner, saying a variety of alleged vote count and voter registration failures by the county cost him a victory.

Democrat J. Goodwille Pierre, a lawyer who manages small business programs for the Houston airport system, is no stranger to voting rights lawsuits; he said he worked on such issues in Texas for the liberal group People For The American Way, particularly on behalf of Prairie View A&M University students registering in Waller County.

Now the first-time candidate is filing suit on behalf of his own campaign against Republican civil court Judge Joseph "Tad" Halbach of the 333rd District Court.

This lawsuit is only slightly related to the TDP's own, filed yesterday, which points to the same shenanigans.

Both suits now allege that outgoing Tax Assessor-Collector Paul Bettencourt, a Republican who also serves as voter registrar, rejected legitimate voter registration applications.

Pierre's lawsuit also cites a non-partisan ballots board's rejection of about 5,800 ballots cast by voters who, according to records from Bettencourt's office and other agencies, had not been properly registered. The ballot board chairman said some of the ballots, after being processed by Bettencourt's staff, had information obscured by correction fluid.

"Had all persons who cast a vote in this race been allowed to have their vote counted; it would have changed the outcome of the election by providing Pierre with more votes than Joseph "Tad" Halbach," the suit said. "Moreover, various irregularities make it impossible to ascertain the true outcome of the election."

Ah, the Wite-Out caper again. Recall that it was the GOP ballot board chairman who caught it?

But Republican Jim Harding, a retired Houston business executive who chairs the ballot board of about 35 people, said the counting process was delayed by faulty work by Bettencourt's staff.

The problems included hundreds of voter forms whose information the registrar's staff masked with white correction fluid and then altered with new information, Harding said.

As ballot board members determined whether ballots should be counted, he said, they wanted to have confidence in the accuracy of the registrar's research.

But "that kind of confidence is not replicated here, and then when they see this 'white-out' all over the place they get nervous," he said.

I don't know what to expect out of Pierre's complaint, other than to draw more heat to Bettencourt's misadventure. Pierre is a respected local attorney and Democratic activist; he also challenged Kaufman for the county clerk's position in 2006.

With the breaking news earlier this afternoon that Joan Huffman has likely violated campaign election law by holding a political rally in the same building as an early voting poll, one thing we know for certain is that Vince Ryan is going to be one busy guy.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

A couple dozen people want to replace Quittencourt

Jockeying began in earnest Monday for the post being vacated by Tax Assessor-Collector Paul Bettencourt, who announced late last week he was resigning to take a private-sector job.

At least two dozen names were being floated, including potential Houston mayoral candidate Bill King, ousted District Clerk Theresa Chang and Republican political consultant Court Koenning, who was the chief of staff for state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston.

Diane Trautman, a Democrat who lost to Bettencourt in the Nov. 4 election, nominated herself as well, saying Bettencourt's decision "deprived the voters of an opportunity to decide who will lead the tax office at this critical time in our county's future."

The choice now falls to the five members of Commissioners Court, where the Republican Party's three-seat majority makes the selection of a Democrat unlikely.

The court is not expected to discuss the vacancy at today's meeting. The next regularly scheduled meeting is Dec. 23, though the panel could call a special meeting before then. Bettencourt said he is willing to stay on the job until Christmas.

What a swell guy. Let's continue breaking down Liz Peterson's article:

Chang, whom the court picked to replace District Clerk Charles Bacarisse when he resigned to challenge County Judge Ed Emmett in the Republican primary, is the most prominent person openly campaigning for the position. Mary Jane Smith, Chang's campaign consultant, said Chang already has expressed interest to some members of court. ...

Bacarisse also has been mentioned as a possible candidate, but he laughed when asked about his interest in the job. He said he is committed to his role as vice president for advancement at Houston Baptist University.

Confirms my (revised) suspicions from Sunday.

King, a former Kemah mayor and councilman who previously was managing partner of the law firm that collects delinquent taxes for Harris County and other local governmental entities, shrugged off speculation that he would seek the position. He said he had not given the idea much thought because he is focused on a possible run for Houston mayor or council.

"I guess if the Commissioners Court was interested in me doing it, I would at least talk to them about it," he said.

Overwhelming enthusiasm on your part, Mr. King. You're right; it's probably a lot more work than you really want to do.

Koenning, a former executive director of the Harris County Republican Party, did not return a call.

Among the other possible contenders are four current or former state representatives, four former Houston council members, a Republican judge who recently lost his seat last month, and three others who recently lost bids for various offices.

Mark Ellis, one of the former Houston councilmen named as a possible candidate, said he is happy with his job at an investment bank and wants to continue helping oversee the development of freight and commuter rail in Harris and Fort Bend counties as head of the Gulf Coast Freight Rail District Board.

"I'm interested. I'm intrigued. I'm flattered, but at the end of the day, I think they need to pick somebody who would really want to be a serious candidate for that position, and right now, that doesn't really fit with my life," said Ellis, who has a 4-year-old daughter.

Some current and former members of Bettencourt's staff also have been mentioned as possible successors, including Tom Moon, who spent five years in the tax office's voter registration department before joining the County Clerk's Office.

Moon said he has thrown his hat in the ring, but "it's a very small hat, and it'll probably get stomped on."

I mentioned that Vince mentioned Ed Johnson. Moon and I have exchanged eye contact on Election Night a time or two at Clerk Kaufman's ballot cave. He's as dry and low-key as this quote indicates.

Dwayne Bohac is one of the state representatives interested. I'm guessing Crazy Bob Talton, formerly of HD-144 and HCRP chair Jared WoodenHead's law partner -- also one of the defeated in the scrum last March for the right to replace Nick Lampson in CD-22 -- is a name in the hat as well. Recent GOP councilpersons include Michael Berry and Pam Holm. There's more than 20 Republican judges who lost their jobs last month. Oh yeah, Tommy Thomas and Mike Stafford. I'm pretty sure neither one of those two is in the running.

Another guess: nobody currently serving in the Lege is going to get it. At least not until Tom Craddick's fate is known, and unless a meteor falls from the sky and takes him out, that won't be before January 13, when the Texas Legislature convenes for its 81st session. We'll have somebody by December 23, as Peterson indicates.

Commissioner Sylvia Garcia said she is backing Trautman, but knows there is little chance the education professor would prevail. She said she also has asked lawyers to investigate whether there is a way for the court to call an election before 2010. Barring either of those options, she said the court should appoint a "caretaker" who will promise not to run for re-election in two years.

"I think it is an affront to the voters, and I think the voters should speak loudly," she said. "We should really hear a public outcry about this and why we're being put in this position."

Sylvia is trying to muster some outrage, but nobody whose vote matters is paying her any attention.

Bettencourt has said serious discussions about his new job did not occur until after the election. He said the January filing deadline for re-election is so early, incumbents have no way of knowing where they will be in life nearly a year later.

"People can express whatever opinion they would like, God bless 'em," he said.

God bless you too Paul, you sorry son of a bitch.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Voter suppression in the news

Our local counter-voter suppression task force completed its final strategy session Tuesday evening, but not without revealing one of the latest attempts to reduce Barack Obama's tally in Harris County. I'll let Gerry Birnberg take over:

There is a FALSE rumor going around by e-mail telling people that if they vote Straight Democratic Party, they must also cast a vote specifically for Barack Obama in order to have an Obama vote registered. THIS IS FALSE INFORMATION probably initiated by Republican dirty tricksters, but now being spread by well-meaning Barack Obama supporters.

The truth is that if you cast a Straight Democratic Party vote, you will be voting for Barack Obama and your Straight Democratic vote will count as a vote for Obama. But if you then go down and “vote” for Obama, you may actually be cancelling your Obama vote.

Don’t be fooled: Just cast a Straight Democratic Party vote and that will get Obama and all the Democratic candidates up and down the ballot.

If you vote on a Hart InterCivic e-Slate DRE (which you will in most all of our beloved Deep-In-The-Hearta) and emphasize your vote for a particular candidate after having clicked the "straight ticket" box, you have deselected that candidate. As in un-voting for him/her. And that's not a bug, it's a feature.

It takes a bit of devious thinking just to come up with a rumor like this to spread. And why would anybody want to go to the trouble of trying to fool people into not voting for Obama in Houston? They don't seriously believe he has a shot at winning Texas, do they?

This is just mischief-making, but it should be the least of anybody's worries. Don't believe me?

Despite bustling registration drives, population growth and excitement about the candidates, Harris County may head into the Nov. 4 election with the about same number of registered voters as in the 2004 presidential contest.

Ahead of Monday's registration deadline, about 1,912,000 citizens were on the voter roll as of Friday, county officials said. The number will grow as registrations continue through the weekend and mail postmarked by Monday arrives next week.

But the county must add 30,000 new eligible voters just to reach the 2004 level, and Tax Assessor-Collector Paul Bettencourt, the county voter registrar, acknowledged a strong chance that the sign-ups will go no higher than the figure from four years ago.

Why is that, Paul? Houston Votes added somewhere between 80,000 and 100,000 registrations alone. Yet with at least 100,000 registrations from all sources -- yes, Republicans too -- the county is still 30,000 short of 2004? What gives?

But unlike in past elections years, Bettencourt said, registration efforts are producing an exceptionally high number of voters who are re-registering to update their address and a relatively low number of people who have never registered before.

"The excitement we're seeing is among people already registered to vote," he said. He pointed to the record-high total turnout in the March primaries, in which 98 percent of the participants already had been registered here before this year. ...

Dee Young of the registration group Houston Votes said the county's refusal to seek an extension of the registration deadline while Ike victims got back on their feet ran against the public interest.

"After all of the frustration I have dealt with, with the county, I don't trust their numbers," she said of Bettencourt's latest projections. ...

The secretary of state's methods of maintaining the Texas voter roll may have helped put a lid on the Harris County numbers. Applying new federal and state laws for the first time, the state immediately removes from the Harris County rolls the registration of those who have registered this year in other counties, Bettencourt said. In comparison, the 2004 list may have contained many inactive registrations.

Purging voter rolls by removing voters who have moved within Texas, or because they have not voted in one of the last two federal elections, could be a violation of federal law. But that's exactly what has been happening in several states (the Lone Star isn't named as one), coincidentally all of them identified as "swing states" in the 2008 presidential election now three-and-one-half weeks away. The New York Times elaborates (without placing blame on nefarious intent, I would add):

Tens of thousands of eligible voters in at least six swing states have been removed from the rolls or have been blocked from registering in ways that appear to violate federal law, according to a review of state records and Social Security data by The New York Times.

The actions do not seem to be coordinated by one party or the other, nor do they appear to be the result of election officials intentionally breaking rules, but are apparently the result of mistakes in the handling of the registrations and voter files as the states tried to comply with a 2002 federal law, intended to overhaul the way elections are run.

Still, because Democrats have been more aggressive at registering new voters this year, according to state election officials, any heightened screening of new applications may affect their party’s supporters disproportionately. The screening or trimming of voter registration lists in the six states — Colorado, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Nevada and North Carolina — could also result in problems at the polls on Election Day: people who have been removed from the rolls are likely to show up only to be challenged by political party officials or election workers, resulting in confusion, long lines and heated tempers.

Just go read the whole thing. There's more in the AP's summary of the Times' investigative report:

The six states seem to have violated federal law in two ways. Some are removing voters from the rolls within 90 days of a federal election, which is not allowed except when voters die, notify the authorities that they have moved out of state, or have been declared unfit to vote.

And some of the states are improperly using Social Security data to verify registration applications for new voters, the newspaper reported.

More on 2008 voter suppression across the United States. Still more from Amy Goodman, Greg Palast, and Robert Kennedy Jr.

Coming back home ...

I have no idea how Paul Bettencourt manages the database of Harris County voter registrations. There's very little voluntary transparency and FOI requests by media and Democratic party officials are often slow-walked and counter-offered (questions regarding Hart's electronic processing of votes are often met with the "proprietary information" block, for example).

I further have no idea how much Harris County voter suppression can be allocated to malicious intent, garden-variety incompetence, or simple and somewhat blameless human error on the part of the registree, the volunteer registrar, or the assistant clerk processing it.

More than likely the determination of this sort of thing will rest with legal discovery after the fact of an epic fail.

Update: Oh yeah, almost forgot ...

Voter Suppression Wiki

Election Protection Wiki

Monday, January 21, 2013

Madame Mayor's re-election chances

They're pretty good. It really doesn't have all that much to do with Ben Hall, either.

"Hall is a formidable challenger but is a long shot to unseat the mayor," University of Houston political scientist Brandon Rottinghaus said in an email.

Rottinghaus noted Hall's funding capability, his vision and his qualifications but suggested that "with Parker's nationalizing profile and perceptions of her doing a good job, it is a more uphill fight."

Rottinghaus added that Parker's most formidable challenge may not be Hall, per se, but a crowded primary field that could squeeze her out of a runoff. "In a runoff, a well-funded candidate like Hall that can put the right coalition together could have a chance," he said. "This may be the model -- almost successful for Gene Locke -- that Hall is looking to create."

Uh, no. Charles is correct. The Chron could not write this story, though, without kissing the ring of the Quitter. Just. Like. Always.

Former Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Paul Bettencourt said he and (HCRP chair Jared) Woodfill discussed the possibility of him running for mayor but said his interest was predicated on the possibility that Parker may leave office early to take a position in the Obama administration, thus necessitating a special election.

"In a special election, I could see what the party chairman is pitching, because that's a low-turnout scenario that would be favorable to Republicans," he said.

Bettencourt also suggested that Hall's candidacy was based, at least initially, on the possibility that the mayor would leave office early.

"The glacier's moving," he said. "The question is, where is it going to stop?"

Quittencourt gets one thing right here: he cannot beat Annise Parker.

In fact, Parker doesn't lose unless she gets a medium-strength challenger from her left. And then a conservative, pro-business, religious African American like Hall has a chance -- but not in a head-to-head runoff against the mayor; her ground game is too strong.

See, Annise Parker is really the moderate Republicans' best choice. The only people who have supported the mayor in her previous two races that will not do so again are whatever exists of a progressive voting bloc. It might be enough of the electorate -- 10 to 15% -- to be a factor in the open primary... but it might not.

Oh, there will be one or two fringe Republican options -- a Christianist and a cut-taxes corporatist -- but neither will be named Bettencourt. It wouldn't be close; she'd whip his ass.

The rumor-mongering about Parker taking a job in the Obama administration is nothing but that. Nobody except a handful of Republicans are saying it, and they don't know what they are talking about.

The early line is on the mayor. But her odds were much better two years ago, and she nearly coughed up a big lead then. Expect there to be some kind of a Green Party/Kubosh brothers alliance as there has been over a few policy disagreements, like with the food-sharing ordinance and Parker's handling of the Occupy Houston ejection.

At this point the mayor's chances are good, but they decrease a little every day.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

An elections administrator for Harris County (?)

Harris County should consider appointing a bureaucrat to take over election duties from two elected officials who currently split the job, County Judge Ed Emmett said.

Emmett said he plans to ask Commissioners Court next month or in July to authorize a study of the costs and consequences of such a change.

Harris County's tax assessor-collector registers voters, a job that accompanied its duty to collect poll taxes. The county clerk runs elections. Both are elected.

Thus, taking voter registration out of the tax assessor/collector's office and elections management out of the county clerk's office and combining them into an elections administration department, under the supervision of an appointed county official, is the idea. And I like it.

Proponents of an elections czar say an appointee would be insulated from accusations and lawsuits alleging partisanship in carrying out the duties of the office.

In late 2008, the state Democratic Party said in a lawsuit that then-Tax Assessor Paul Bettencourt, a Republican, had illegally blocked thousands of people from registering to vote. The lawsuit was settled last fall. Bettencourt resigned in December 2008 to work in the private sector, just weeks after being elected to a third four-year term.

“The Democrats' lawsuit against the tax office and Paul Bettencourt's abrupt departure were game changers,” Emmett said. “It brought to everybody's attention that any time you have partisan offices running elections, you're just sort of leaving yourself open to lawsuits.”

The legacy of Quittencourt. He now runs a company that negotiates with the Harris County Appraisal District to get property taxes lowered for homeowners, marking time for his next electoral opportunity.  Continuing with Chris Moran at the Chron ...

There was talk of tinkering with the county's elections machinery at the time. County Clerk Beverly Kaufman and newly appointed Tax Assessor-Collector Leo Vasquez opposed it. No formal proposal emerged.

“I was glad because I didn't want to lose a lot of my people,” Kaufman said.

But Kaufman is retiring, and her endorsed successor lost the March primary election for the nomination to succeed her. Vasquez lost his Republican primary.

That opens a window for proponents in which they can largely avoid the turf war over taking money, people and power from the tax assessor and clerk. Kaufman herself restarted talk of an administrator when she sent Emmett information about it a month ago. Now that she is leaving office she supports an elections administrator, she said.

“This is the ideal time, when you're not pulling the rug out from somebody that's already doing it,” she said.

No incumbent owns any turf to lose, but the challengers bidding to replace them are howling:

Democrat Ann Harris Bennett and Republican Stan Stanart, the November candidates to succeed Kaufman, both said they oppose an elections administrator.

“The voters don't have any way of removing (an appointee) when they're not happy with the performance,” Stanart said.

Democratic tax-assessor candidate Diane Trautman agreed with Stanart, though her released statement had a more partisan bent.

“Now that his hand-picked appointee for tax assessor and Beverly Kaufman's chosen successor for county clerk have been rejected by voters, Ed Emmett wants to change the rules,” Trautman said. “He wants to make sure that the next time he appoints someone to oversee elections processes in Harris County, that person cannot be removed by the voters.”

Republican tax-assessor candidate Don Sumners said, “It's not broken. We don't need to fix it.” He said he suspects the plan is retaliation for his past public criticism of Commissioners Court.

The partisan PDiddie would love for this crucial bit of democracy to fall under the control of Diane Trautman and Ann Harris Bennett. But the (perhaps utopian) idea of a non-partisan, unelected official has great appeal -- assuming it could actually happen.

Statewide, an administrator is used in 77 of the 254 counties, including Bexar, Dallas, El Paso and Tarrant. By state law, an election commission consisting of the county judge, the tax assessor, the county clerk and the heads of the local political parties hires and fires an elections administrator.

The leaders of the county's Republican and Democratic parties condemned the idea.

GOP Chairman Jared Woodfill said the party took a stand against an administrator two years ago. “It's another level of bureaucracy that we didn't need,” Woodfill said.

Democratic Chairman Gerry Birnberg said there is no party position on the matter but that he may take it up if the idea gets traction at Commissioners Court.

Charles Kuffner has more, including these questions:

Does this person have to be periodically re-appointed, or re-confirmed? Under what conditions can he or she be fired? How can you isolate this person from political pressure, yet ensure they are accountable?

All important considerations. I think my condition would be someone with prior metro county experience outside of Texas -- thus somewhat removed from the Republican Party of Texas' unique view on what constitutes free and fair elections. Yeah, I'm looking at you, Greg Abbott. Update: ... and so is Kuffner.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Gene Locke plays the hate card

I told you he wasn't a Democrat.

A cluster of socially conservative Houstonians is planning a campaign to discourage voters from choosing City Controller Annise Parker in the December mayoral runoff because she is a lesbian, according to multiple ministers and conservatives involved in the effort.

The group is motivated by concerns about a “gay takeover” of City Hall, given that two other candidates in the five remaining City Council races are also openly gay, as well as national interest driven by the possibility that Houston could become the first major U.S. city to elect an openly gay woman.

Another primary concern is that Parker or other elected officials would seek to overturn a 2001 city charter amendment that prohibits the city from providing benefits to the domestic partners of gay and lesbian employees.

"The bottom line is that we didn't pick the battle, she did, when she made her agenda and sexual preference a central part of her campaign,” said Dave Welch, executive director of the Houston Area Pastor Council, numbering more than 200 senior pastors in the Greater Houston area. “National gay and lesbian activists see this as a historic opportunity. The reality is that's because they're promoting an agenda which we believe to be contrary to the concerns of the community and destructive to the family.”

So at this point you may be wondering, what does a good Democrat (sic) like Gene Locke have to do with this slime?

(Locke) strongly distanced himself from a previous anti-gay attack against her that ultimately proved to have been a hoax. But he has made recent efforts to court some of the staunch social conservatives who are either actively planning on attacking Parker's sexuality or strongly considering it.

He appeared at the Pastor Council's annual gala last Friday and was encouraged several times by State Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, a featured speaker, to stand for conservative values.

Locke has also met with and sought the endorsement of Dr. Steven Hotze, a longtime local kingmaker in conservative politics and author of the Straight Slate in 1985, a coterie of eight City Council candidates he recruited who ran on an anti-gay platform. ...

Republican consultant Allen Blakemore, a longtime Hotze associate who spoke on his behalf, said he is considering mailing out a slate of endorsed runoff candidates, and Parker's sexuality is a “key factor” in his decision.

Ah, the exquisite stench emanating from Harris County's freak right: Stephen Hotze, Dan Patrick, Allen Blakemore. And all of their minions. Did I forget to mention Paul Bettencourt? Although he thinks Locke isn't coming out forcefully enough against gay rights.

Former Harris County Tax Assessor Collector Paul Bettencourt, another Republican close to Hotze, said that if Locke wishes to unite a strong African-American base with social conservatives, they will need his assurance that he will not seek to overturn the charter amendment.

Responding to the same debate question as Parker last month, Locke said same-sex benefits allow governments and businesses “a competitive advantage” and said he “would favor that,” although it would not be the first thing on his plate.

“That's not going to motivate us to come out and vote for somebody,” Bettencourt said of social conservatives. “You cannot get the positive good conservative turnout if you're trying to undo charter amendments. It's a line drawn in the sand. You just can't have it both ways.”

Kuffner and Muse have more to say about this development. Locke's campaign is also doing something funny with Democratic precinct chairs' e-mail addresses, which is a far cry from gay-baiting the electorate but in keeping with a organization so desperate to win that they will do whatever it takes -- lie, cheat, steal, misinform, obfuscate, smear, and fear-monger.

Epic fail.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Good, Bad, and Ugly: more of each

-- The Good: disappointing turnout on Election Day notwithstanding, Harris County voting proceeded with only the most minor of hiccups. Beverly Kaufman added extra polling locations, made technical improvements such as barcode and driver's license scanning that shortened wait times and reduced data-entry error during EV, secured the transfer cases (cardboard boxes) of e-Slates with an improved seal, added two extra seals on the e-Slates themselves that restricted election judges from setting up and activating the ballot boxes until the morning of Election Day, and took other precautions that John Behrman and others have urged, from parallel testing to quarantining of suspect machines. Berhman also was granted additional access to areas and information that were previously deemed ministerial and confidential.

I'm usually the critic, so when a compliment is due I don't want to run a deficit. Good job, Ms. Kaufman and the same to all of your staff, including elections supervisors John German and Randy Roberts and the platoons of assistant clerks.

-- The Bad: Hispanic precincts turned out their vote at 40-45% -- outstanding in any other election year, but lame compared to the countywide average of between 60-65%. No one seems to have a good answer beyond latent racism, lingering disillusionment at Hillary Clinton's primary loss, or lack of GOTV efforts in that community:

Local Democratic Chairman Gerald Birnberg said his party struggled to get former supporters of Hillary Rodham Clinton's presidential primary candidacy to return to the polls and vote for Obama and the rest of the party's slate. Clinton was immensely popular among Hispanic voters in Texas.

"The head wind was the demoralization of many of the Hispanic Hillary Clinton supporters and that was a reality we faced throughout the election," Birnberg said.

As Democratic political consultant Marc Campos of Houston pointed out, Tuesday's election totals put turnout in mostly Hispanic state House districts at 40 to 45 percent, compared to 60 to 65 percent in mostly white, suburban districts as well as mostly black districts.

Campos, a Hispanic, said his party's efforts to motivate Hispanic voters was substandard. Birnberg disagreed, saying that among other things, Democrats aimed at Hispanic households with a recorded telephone message from Clinton urging voters to back every candidate.

Birnberg pointed out that all countywide Democratic Hispanic candidates won their contests except one, while district attorney candidate C.O. "Brad" Bradford and other black candidates lost.

Regardless, "clearly we must continue to do better year in and year out in the Hispanic community," Birnberg added.

Bob Stein offers another clue, which goes to Paul Bettencourt's strenuous efforts to clerically suppress the vote:

About 100,000 people who voted in the spring Democratic primary failed to vote in the county's general election, according to Rice University political scientist Bob Stein.

"I don't think they're disinterested in politics. I think it's the way we conduct our elections and how we make it very difficult for people who move around a lot to re-register," he said.

Republican Paul Bettencourt, the voter registrar re-elected as county tax assessor-collector, rejected Stein's theory.

About 100,000 other people easily updated their registrations for the general election, he said. Also, he theorized that turnout would have been much higher if Obama or John McCain or their running mates would have campaigned in Houston.

I'll be damned; Bettencourt is right. Obama not only never came back to Texas beyond a fundraiser, he sucked hundred of volunteers out of the state to work in New Mexico and other swingers, and many who couldn't leave spent their weekends calling battlegrounds on Obama's behalf.

I fault the Texas Democratic Party for allowing this to happen. This is where it gets ...

-- Ugly:

(T)he Obama campaign gobbled up the potential volunteer base for a statewide sweep campaign by exhorting Texans to campaign in other states, both physically and over phone banks. But I don't blame the Obama campaign. At least they had something for the vast Texas Democratic volunteer base to do. How can we blame the Obama campaign for making use of this huge volunteer base when the Texas Democratic party did not intend to make use of it?

Can anybody identify a single specific action or statement from the State Party demonstrating that it seriously wanted Obama to put Texas in play?

MoveOn wore me out asking me to work for Obama. Meanwhile I was busy working my precinct for all Democrats. And the TDP apparently sent a mailer to GOTV, which I'm told they spent hundreds of thousands on to send all over the state.

Ah, so the Democratic political advisors specializing in direct mail got remunerated handsomely.

So long as we Texas Democrats continue to listen to the self-inflated consultants and other "pundits" who insist on running targeted campaigns instead of sweep campaigns, we cannot expect a sweep-campaign outcome!

Hellllloooooooooo ...

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Commissioners Court Shuffle

The third largest county in the United States may soon have a vacancy at the top of the food chain:

Harris County Judge Robert Eckels said Wednesday he is mulling offers from the private sector and can't rule out walking away from the four-year term he just won in November.

An early resignation would create a political whirlwind in county government, where officials serve without term limits and open seats are rare.

Eckels, a Republican, has political ambitions extending beyond these on-the-table offers to make a big pile of money; his name was mentioned frequently in the DeLay-apalooza last summer. But his current job gives him oversight which spans all or part of seven congressional districts, so his interest is likely as a statewide candidate. Houtopia (much better connected than me) handicaps the potential replacements:

Some names that have surfaced on the GOP side as possible replacements are Jerry Eversole, Ned Holmes, or Paul Bettencourt. Eversole would seem more of a placeholder. If he left his Commissioner's seat to take the job, there would likely be a wide-open Republican primary for County Judge in 2008, whether Eversole wanted to keep the position or not.

Holmes, a longtime party donor, hugely successful businessman and former Port Authority Chairman, if appointed, would be a daunting opponent for 2008 challengers. First of all, he could self-fund, he would be a smooth, telegenic candidate, and he has a ton of favors to cash in -- the guy's raised money for or given to every candidate and elected official in town. Nobody wants to take him on in a GOP primary.

Then there's Bettencourt. The darling of the anti-tax conservative crowd (ironic when you think of to whom you write your enormous property tax check each year), the current Tax Assessor-Collector has one rather large obstacle -- (Commissioner Steve) Radack. That's right folks, they too are mortal enemies. So, the interim appointment is probably out for Bettencourt, though he may well look at 2008.

Keir also slips in a mention of the Democrats' chances:

After all, the average downballot countywide Dem candidate got about 48.5% of the vote in 2006, with terrible base voter turnout and absolutely no coordinated effort. All signs point to Harris County tipping back to the Democrats in the near future, so they would be crazy not to mount a serious challenge for this seat in 2008, particularly considering the dramatically higher base Democratic voter turnout in a presidential year. ...

The two names most often mentioned are former City Council Member Gordon Quan and former Party Chair and real estate investor David Mincberg. Both would be strong candidates.

Local politics could get a lot more interesting if Judge Eckels decides to bail.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

GOP food fight in Houston

Via Charles, a fight Houston conservatives didn't need to have has broken out into the open.

The Harris County Republican Party released a flier Monday attacking Houston mayoral candidate Ben Hall for his Democratic ties and previous support for a nondiscrimination ordinance.

Hall, a Democrat, is running on a socially conservative platform and aims to assemble a coalition of faith-based and fiscally conservative voters.

Among top-tier mayoral candidates, he is the most ardent critic of the city's equal rights ordinance, known as HERO. The law is set to appear on November's ballot.

"Ben Hall says yes to HERO ordinance in 2013," the GOP flier reads, citing a 2013 Harris County Democratic Party questionnaire on which Hall said he would support a nondiscrimination policy.

The ad also labels Hall a "current Democratic Party sustaining member" and claims he contributed more than $100,000 to Democrats, including President Barack Obama, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton and Secretary of State John Kerry, citing campaign finance reports.

It's also a reminder that the shroud of non-partisan municipal elections is worn through to gossamer.  The Republican establishment is pushing back against the rebels.   Or as I would prefer, the anti-Hotze, anti-Woodfill caucus going after the conservative front-runner.  They want Bill King and not Hall... and it may not even be racial.

"We won't stand by and let a political opportunist like Ben Hall try to fool the voters into thinking that he is some kind of Republican," Harris County Republican Party chair Paul Simpson said. "If some have endorsed Hall with the idea that he's a conservative, then they should have done their homework first."

Simpson beat Woodfill for county chair a year or so ago, and Woodfill hasn't gotten over it.  And Simpson, bullied by Woodfill's shadow chairmanship of the local Republicans, has to respond with the only thing political parties have that holds them together: loyalty.  Fealty.

Hall, a former city attorney, has been backed by several pastors' groups and conservative activist Steven Hotze, who publishes an influential endorsement slate.

However, state Sen. Paul Bettencourt said the majority of local Republican Party precinct chairs are supporting King.

No, it's not racial, but Hall really oughta play the race card just for shits and giggles.  Boy, these people have too much time and money on their hands.

If Simpson and the party cronies like Bettencourt are successful, then you will see two of  Sylvester Turner, Adrian Garcia, or Chris Bell in the runoff.  That's how good this is.

Update: In which I get a tip o' the chapeau from Big Jolly.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Costello getting flooded out of mayor's race *Updated w/press conference details*

Charles also has this topic covered for you; as is custom here, I speculate on what the political after-effects may be.  First, Rebecca Elliott with the latest.

When the most conservative candidate in the Houston mayor's race dropped out two months ago, the battle to win over right-leaning voters became a two-man show: former Kemah Mayor Bill King versus City Councilman Stephen Costello.

Both candidates bill themselves as moderate fiscal conservatives chiefly concerned about the city's finances - pensions in particular - and, by all accounts, neither is an ideal choice for the far right.

Nonetheless, support among local Republicans has begun to coalesce around King, who has taken a hard line against ReBuild Houston, the city's controversial streets and drainage program.

Now, with Houston recovering from severe flooding and the state Supreme Court ruling against the city in a lawsuit over ReBuild, program mastermind Costello only looks to be in trouble.

"The timing of this couldn't be worse for Costello," said Rice University political scientist Bob Stein, adding that King now has a window to break through.

I would swear somebody said something precisely like this a week ago.

As for Costello and King, political observers say either could make it into a runoff, but that it would require one of them falling out of the running. Otherwise, they likely split the conservative vote, leaving neither with enough support to make it past November.

Broadly speaking, Costello and King's campaigns are similar, their top issues the same: pension reform, public safety and road repairs.

Their policy positions do diverge in two key areas: pension reform and infrastructure funding.

While they both have identified Houston's rising pension costs as a primary concern, Costello, who chairs the city's budget and fiscal affairs committee, is a proponent of a modified defined benefit plan in which city employees would continue to receive a set pension. King wants to switch to a defined contribution model for new hires.

However, it is more difficult to engage potential voters on pensions than take photos of potholes, and a recent string of storms has only intensified the candidates' obsession with the condition of Houston's roads.

Yes, the worm has turned against Costello in this regard.

(Costello)'s support of the drainage fee has put him in a tough spot with some on the right.

"For him to say he's conservative, I don't see it. I don't see it at all," said Joe Slovacek, co-counsel for the plaintiffs in the ReBuild lawsuit and a member of the conservative Houston Realty Business Coalition and C Club.

For conservatives, Slovacek said, "There's no other choice but Bill King."

State Sen. Paul Bettencourt, a Houston Republican who led the effort to sue the city over ReBuild, said King has staked out the strongest position of those in the field.

Bettencourt's brother co-chairs King's campaign.

Pretty clear where this is going, isn't it?

Houston's chapter of the American Council of Engineering Companies offered Costello an early endorsement in March, referencing his "first-hand" knowledge of how to fix Houston's streets.

Even so, local engineer Truman Edminster said doubts remain.

"There's a certain amount of reservation about 'Can he really make it over the top? Can he really make it into the runoff?'" Edminster said.

Houston Democrats would greatly prefer that Costello and King split the conservative vote, because that could mean a runoff between two Ds.  But with Costello faltering this early, your handicapping for this race today is Sylvester Turner, Bill King, and one of Chris Bell and Adrian Garcia with enough potential remaining to push himself in and one of those top two out of a runoff.  And since the Latinos in San Antonio couldn't get Leticia Van de Putte over the hump, I cannot see "the community turning out in historic numbers" for the former sheriff.

With about 4.5 months to go, I'll place a bet today on Turner to win (with a plurality, not a majority), King to place, and Bell to show.  But there's still plenty of track left to run.

Update: Chris Bell held a press conference yesterday to call for an outside investigation into the severe flooding in the Meyerland area.  (Bell's own home took in three feet of water.)  The nearly-$2 billion ongoing project to remediate Brays Bayou through the southwest part of the city, in the wake of Tropical Storm Allison in 2001, apparently saved much of the Texas Medical Center this go-round.  But the construction work has been implicated in the West Loop/South Loop corner flood damage due to long delays.  Councilman Larry Green first pointed the finger at the lack of progress as a culprit in the floods.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

City Hall goings-on: pensions, agendas, and scuttlebutt

Update: Multiple sources confirm this evening that county sheriff Adrian Garcia will enter the race for mayor, possibly within the next month.

Original post (with updates throughout):

 -- To review: The tension surrounding the city of Houston's negotiations with its firefighters over pension obligations culminated with an agreement a couple of weeks ago.  That was viewed as half a loaf by some of the Republicans on Council.  There was a brief tussle between Rep. Sylvester Turner -- who boosted his cred by brokering the deal -- and the Houston Chronicle editorial board over the value and impact of those efforts.

While that was going on, state Rep. Jim Murphy (a Republican from the affluent west side of town) managed to Bigfoot the pact with a legislative counter-proposal that Houston's municipal conservative coalition rallied behind.

Then a week ago, the pension showdown escalated when some of the more impudent members of council -- most of which are not trying to call attention to their mayoral election campaigns, mind you -- used an obscure procedure to call a meeting for last Friday and air their views.

(T)he symbolism of the meeting is more significant than any action that could be taken, given that the group will simply consider registering support for or opposition to the pension deal.

Regardless, Parker's liaison to council, William-Paul Thomas, said he will work against a quorum. Parker had said she would not put the deal to a council vote because it does not call for the expenditure of city funds.

That is what happened: C.O. Bradford, the wheelman in this caper, got overly authoritative and two of the more liberal council members stood up and walked away, denying the rebels their right to vote or send a message or whatever.

Near the end of Friday's meeting, Councilman David Robinson moved to delay the vote to "facilitate broader discussion" and consider the impact of several related bills being filed in Austin. Councilman C.O. Bradford, chairing the meeting, ruled that action out of order because he felt it was important to send lawmakers a message before the deadline to file bills, and a delay would render the vote moot.

Robinson then gathered his papers and left the dais, joined by Councilwoman Ellen Cohen, breaking the quorum needed to vote.

This revealed some agendas, hidden and otherwise.

One: WTF was C.O. Bradford doing running this show?  Is he bidding for political office in 2016, or currying favor with the right-wing again?  Or both?

Two: While "Stone Cold" Steve Costello and Oliver "Twisted" Pennington were out of sight at City Hall last week,  they weren't silent about Murphy's Proposed Law undercutting the city's pension agreement with the firemen.  From Teddy Schleifer's "Horseshoe" this week (which I keep telling you to subscribe to):

Costello and Pennington came out quickly in support of the Murphy bill, with Costello saying he “played a role in crafting this bill.” The Greater Houston Partnership encouraged Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick to support the local control bill, calling the compromise agreement “more patchwork.” Read the letter.

Local control is a good thing, especially when Greg Abbott is against it.  So as Ted pointed out...

(Murphy’s bill) would give all cities in Texas the ability to negotiate directly with their pension boards, which has long been an ambition of Mayor Annise Parker.

Parker is now in the awkward position of not actively lobbying for a bill she has sought: “Best of luck,” a Parker spokeswoman said.

The problem here is when you ask Dan Patrick to weigh in on anything, because he's going to hide some rattlesnakes in it somewhere.  Nobody wants Patrick, or Paul Bettencourt for that matter, appointing themselves quasi-mayor of Houston and all else they survey.  Makes your skin crawl, doesn't it?  All they really want to do is undermine Mayor Parker.  That's all this is about, no matter what else gets said or done.  Parker Derangement Syndrome.

The hell with Patrick, Bettencourt, the GHP and Bradford and all of these other conservative poopy heads.  Get elected mayor or pound sand.

-- Pothole King Bill is also jousting with Stone Cold over what he derisively refers to as the rain tax.  Teddy S, once again.

NAME-DROP: King on Stephen Costello to KRIV’s Greg Groogan on drainage fee: “I heard Councilman Costello say on the radio the other day that people just need to be patient for six or seven years and the money will be there, but excuse me if I am skeptical that the money will really be there.” Full interview. 
NOT BACKING DOWN: Costello, for his part, forcefully defended the drainage fee and ReBuild Houston at his campaign launch last week. Keep your eyes on this King-Costello battle for the middle.

“Make no mistake: While this was a big step in the right direction, it was also just the start," Costello told supporters. "All you have to do is try to navigate your way through the neighborhood around potholes and daily traffic backups in your own neighborhood to know that this is not good enough." 

King has got to take votes away from Costello to have a chance at beating both he and Pennington to make the runoff.  So yes, watch how they spar with each other.  Only one of those three will be left standing after the first Tuesday in November.  And Pennington's wrapping up the "true conservative" caucus.

-- Via Schleifer and 'Horseshoe' once more: is anybody else a little ashamed by the fact that LVDP -- running for San Antonio mayor -- is fundraising in Houston?  On the other hand, just imagine how much of this outside-the-box money-grubbing you might see if there were real, actual limits on campaign contributions.  Tin-cupping and panhandling worse than at your local Walmart's parking lot.  Bake sales and American flag invoices might do the trick, too.  "Cupcakes for Costello!"  "Buy a churro, support Adrian Garcia!"

At least these guys would be able to show some small donor support.  That is Costello's real problem: he can't find anything to sell in River Oaks that they want to buy for less than $1000.  No support behind that dude except for the very, very rich.  Look at his campaign finance reports.  (This might be the only time I ever write those words.)

With a hard, low spending cap -- one Charles might be able to support -- all those buttons, stickers, pens and pencils, rulers, combs, etc. would cost you a dollar.  Hell, they want to get a $5 'donation' from you now for a bumper sticker and a yard sign, so why not?  If Obama can ask you to chip in three bucks, why can't the candidates who are unable to write themselves a check, or collect 250 large in one night -- or both -- do so?  It would give the non-1% contenders a shot, at least.

Attorney Sean Roberts, another potential candidate, tells the Chronicle: “I expect to make a decision before the end of the month.”

It sure wouldn't restore any grace to our political process, but it's still a better option than letting the wealthy buy them all off.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Brainy Endorsements: Ann Harris Bennett

In 2010, Harris County voters had the opportunity to elect Ann Harris Bennett to the office of County Clerk. Given the cartoon aspects of the performance of the extreme conservative who let the Red Tea Tide carry him in two years ago, there is now buyer's remorse even on the part of Harris County Republicans, who turned out his clown car sidekick in the county tax assessor's office, Don Sumners.

Bennett will be the Democrats' nominee for tax assessor/collector in 2012, and the other options... well, aren't.

Former Houston city councilman Mike Sullivan represents "proven conservative values", according to what proven conservative dipshits like Paul Bettencourt say.

Former tax assessor Paul Bettencourt said the ousting of incumbents such as Sumners and District Attorney Pat Lykos showed GOP voters want candidates that have “more conservative perceptions of how the office should be run,” adding voters clearly identified “job performance issues.”

There is no such thing as being more conservative than Don Sumners. There isn't one inch of space to his right. You can stop trying to wedge yourself in there (and please stop talking about how being conservative is a good thing, while you're at it).

“I think that I represented conservative values on Houston City Council, I represented conservative values on Humble ISD board of trustees, and my long history in the party and track record have proven attractive to Republican voters,” (Sullivan) said...

Enough. We have all had enough -- too much, actually -- of 'conservative' in Harris county government. It's time for some balance.

It's time for some common sense. Pamela Crawford at Style:

Ms. Bennett, a native Texan, is no stranger to the county system. She served as court coordinator for 14 ½ years in the 55th and 152nd Civil District Courts for both Republican and Democratic judges in court administration. She also was a 12-year legal secretary for plaintiff and insurance defense law firms in Houston working primarily in tort litigation. Her background with the courts and law firms indicates she understands how integrity, transparency and accountability are a crucial part of a daily routine. Her legal experience tells me she understands how to manage technology andr documents. As an attorney, I appreciate that she clearly understands how the legal process works.

Via Stace, Bennett's press release in the wake of Sumners' breakdown in mailing voter registration cards last spring...

“Harris County seems to have been the testing ground for vote suppression tactics used against minorities and that cannot continue. Restoring faith in the integrity of the voter registration process will be a priority of my campaign and my administration when elected...”.

And from Bennett's website:

It’s been almost fifty years since passage of the Voting Rights Act and yet, from voter registration irregularities to illegal redistricting plans, we too often continue to see examples of the need for the legal protections afforded under the Voting Rights Act. While I could not be more thankful for those protections, I intend to end the questionable practices of the past and restore faith among Harris County voters in the voter registration process. The voter registration process should be simple, secure, accessible and most of all, it should never leave citizens questioning its integrity.

There is also a Libertarian in this contest, but he seems to be running an invisible campaign. All I could find was this Meetup profile.  Maybe Democrats should e-mail him or call him -- see the first link in this paragraph -- and ask when he's going to get started campaigning.

Once again, as clear a choice as it comes on your Harris County ballot. Let's get it correct, not right, this time.

Earlier Brainy Endorsements:

Nile Copeland for the First Court of Appeals
Alfred and GC Molison for HD 131 and SBOE, respectively
Henry Cooper for HD 148
Keith Hampton for Presiding Judge, Texas Court of Criminal Appeals
Barbara Gardner for the Fourteenth Court of Appeals
Don Cook for Congress, 22nd District
Max Martin for Congress, 36th District
Remington Alessi for Harris County Sheriff