Texpatriate’s Questions for Mack McInnis

Editorial note: This is the fifteenth in our series of electronic interviews with candidates for Statewide and Harris County offices. We have sent questionnaires to every candidate on the ballot, given we could find a working email address. We have printed their answers verbatim as we receive them. If you are or work for such a candidate, and we did not send a questionnaire, please contact us <info@texpate.com>.

Mack McInnis, Democratic candidate for the 185th (Criminal) District Court

Texpatriate: What is your name?
MM: Mack McInnis

T: What office are you seeking?
MM: Judge, 185th Criminal District Court

T: Please list all the elected or appointed POLITICAL (including all Judicial) offices you have previously held, and for which years you held them.
MM: None

T: What is your political party?
MM: Democratic Party

T: What is a specific case in which you disagree with actions undertaken by the incumbent?
MM: My opponent’s Grand Jury selection method. My opponent uses an archaic and notorious method of selecting Grand Juries. She uses the “Key-man” a.k.a. Pick-a-Pal system which almost all Texas counties have abandoned. This old practice employs three to five Commissioners selected by the Judge. These Commissioners then select the Grand Jury.

In the case of Harris County District Attorney Patricia Lykos, a “Runaway” Grand Jury launched an investigation of the DA’s use of breath test results obtained using mobile Breath Alcohol Testing (BAT) vans. This protracted investigation revealed no wrong doing by Lykos, but it did serve to smear Lykos causing her to lose the Republican primary. My opponent acting both as a Judge of the 185th Criminal District Court and as presiding Administrative Judge over the Harris County Criminal District Courts ordered that the names of the July/August 2012 Commissioners and Grand Jurors be sealed until “further order of the Court.”

In recent months many articles in the Houston Chronicle and in the Washington Post have decried the use of the Pick-a-Pal selection process and the sealing of Grand Jury records.

T: What is a contentious issue that you believe the Court will face in the near future? Why is it important? How would you solve it?
MM: Pretrial Release. In the past, Harris County had an active Pretrial Release program that used a risk scoring system to determine whether or not an arrestee was a safe risk for a low cost pretrial bond. Because of the strong law and order slant taken by the Harris County Criminal Courts in recent years, the practice declined and the Pretrial Release Agency made fewer and fewer bonds.

As a consequence, our jails are flooded with low risk offenders who could be paying a low cost bail fee to the County as was done in the past. I would solve the problem by urging my colleagues on the Criminal Judge’s Board to revitalize the Pre-trial Release program. In support of this approach, I will extend inexpensive Pretrial Release bonds to appropriate candidates based on the risk scoring system.

T: Do you believe that the incumbent has specifically failed at her job? If so, why?
MM: Yes, she has. As stated earlier, she has sealed the Grand Jury records in violation of the spirit and the letter of the Judicial Administrative rules. In 2010, she put an innocent woman in jail for three days for saying “Thank you, Jesus.” when her husband’s not guilty verdict was announced in court. Putting this innocent, religious woman in jail was an unnecessarily cruel over reaction demonstrating a lack of judicial temperament.

T: Why you, as opposed to your opponent?
MM: I am more balanced in experience and temperament. I have served as a civil prosecutor for over eight years prosecuting termination cases in order to protect children from abusive parents. I also served as a criminal defense lawyer for 32 years. I have been the lead counsel in capital murder cases, multi-defendant federal cases, and I have around 300 jury trials under my belt. I also served as an Adjunct Professor of Criminal Trial Advocacy. I am Board Certified in Criminal Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. I will be decisive and fair.

T: What role do you think a Criminal District Judge should have individually?
MM: At the sake of sounding redundant, I believe that a balance of experience and personality makes for a good judge. A good judge cannot inaugurate sweeping changes. A good judge becomes an example by thoughtful rulings in individual cases.

T: What role do you think the Criminal District Courts should have as a whole?
MM: A judge should rule based on the law and the law should be tempered by reason and mercy in appropriate cases. A Criminal Judge’s influence is limited to his or her contribution to the policy decisions of the Criminal Judge’s Board and to his or her individual rulings.

T: What role do you believe a Judge should have in plea bargains?
MM: Very limited. I think that Judges sometimes refuse to allow plea agreements based on some iron clad or punitive policy mandate.

T: Do you think a Judge should ever veto an agreement between the District Attorney and Defense Attorneys?
MM: I can envision rare cases where a plea agreement should not be followed. For example, a burglar is offered a mild punishment and it is later discovered prior to the scheduled plea date that he/she is a serial killer and has committed multiple other crimes and perhaps should stay in jail to permit a more thorough investigation.

T: What role do you think that rehabilitation, rather than punishment, particularly for drug offenses, should have in the criminal justice process?
MM: I am a strong believer in rehabilitation. I have seen it work in multiple cases. One of my former clients was a repeat drug offender and he and his wife (also a former repeat drug offender) have operated very successfully for many years one of the best prison rehab ministries in Texas.

T: What are your thoughts on the partisan election of Judges?
MM: I think it is a mistake. Judges should be elected based on personal experience and qualifications and should serve for only two four-year terms. Unfortunately, we have to run in partisan elections. I do not believe that judges should be appointed by the Governor.

T: What are the three most important issues to you, and what is at least one thing you have done to address each of them?
MM: 1) The Pick-a-Pal Grand Jury System which I have advocated against it for years.

2) A bail-bond-company dominated bonding system which I have also advocated against for many years.

3) Wrongful convictions caused by a failed Crime Lab and evidence storage system which is illustrated by the deplorable history of the HPD Crime Lab. The new Michael Morton Law is a step in the right direction. I have advocated for an independent quality controlled Crime Lab and a reformed biological evidence storage system. Additionally, I believe that all expert witnesses and crime scene investigators should be trained under the NIJ Eyewitness Evidence Guide.

Ban on synthetic pot?

The Houston Chronicle reports that Mayor Annise Parker and the City Attorney, Dave Feldman, are aiming to introduce a new ordinance to the City Council’s Quality of Life Committee banning the use of sale of synthetic marijuana. The State of Texas banned many forms of synthetic pot in 2011, but dealers quickly found a way around this law by tweaking –ever so slightly– the chemical balance and names. Accordingly, Houston is stepping in to provide a comprehensive solution to the problem.

According to Parker and Feldman, forms of the creation, be it “K2″ or kush, are particularly dangerous. Unlike natural marijuana, which carries no real deleterious health effects, many forms of synthetic pot can cause seizures and palpitations. Accordingly, the city has a real interest in stopping its prevalent use, especially among legal sources. Feldman noted in the Chronicle article that many legal dispensaries still carry the product, something they hope will be ended after a new law is passed.

Councilmembers Ed Gonzalez (D-District H) and Jack Christie (R-At Large 5) were both sought out by the Chronicle to comment on the proposal, and both were broadly supportive. Gonzalez had some qualms but overall remained optimistic, while Christie focused more on the prevention of –what he called– “kids getting zonked out.”

I have to admit, I was rather apprehensive and skeptical when I first heard this headline. As the sagacious will recall, I am a fairly big proponent of the total legalization of marijuana. Accordingly, I originally rolled my eyes when I heard of this proposal, thinking  it was more in the overreaction of the asinine war on drugs. But the dangers of synthetic pot are very real. CNN had a rather terrifying story recently outlining the terrifying side effects that the product often has, sometimes on children.

Obviously, synthetic pot should never be used by minors, and the City should do much to dissuade denizens from using it. However, I don’t know if I am totally sold on whether or not Houston should be spending so many resources combating this comparably minor problem. We still have tons of violent crime, and –like every other major metropolitan police force in the United States– cannot feasibly go after every lawbreaker. Perhaps we should be using our limited resources going after more serious offenses.

Synthetic pot is obviously bad for you, but so is alcohol. I guess this is the civil libertarian in me coming out, but I often think that we should let individuals make their own personal decisions. What do you think? What do you think the City Council will end up doing?

Council expands recycling citywide

The Houston Chronicle reported yesterday that Mayor Annise Parker unveiled a new plan to bring curbside recycling to every Houstonian by year’s end. Specifically, a roll-able 96 gallon green bin will be delivered to all the houses within the city limits, for absolute ease in recycling. Today, the Houston City Council voted unanimously (with the Mayor absent) to spend more than $5 Million to accomplish this ambitious task. The Council held a long –and often rambling– debate on the merits of recycling and the quixotic one-bin-for-all program.

Roughly 30% of houses in Houston are either without any form of recycling or merely have the bulky green bins one must carry by hand. As some may recall, I blasted the Mayor’s short-sighted proposals to “expand” the recycling program last year, which unreasonably focused on upgrading those with the handheld bins to the rolling bins, rather than providing every Houstonian at least some baseline of coverage. Unsurprisingly, the priorities on recycling went to richer and Whiter neighborhoods. District C, arguably the most affluent district, already had virtually full coverage. Some of the comparably poorer districts, including District D and District I, had much more spotty coverage.

One of those portions of District D is most of Midtown, which is still without any semblance of recycling service. When I worked in Midtown, as recently as last year, I would have to give any aluminum cans I had accrued throughout the day a 30 minute ride back to Meyerland if they stood any chance of being recycled.

Indeed, Councilmember Dwight Boykins (D-District D), who represents the area, has been particularly vocal about this matter. “The beauty of this thing is that everybody will be able to participate in the recycle process,” Boykins recently told the Chronicle on the subject.

Obviously, I am elated to hear this much needed adjustment to the city’s sustainability program has occurred.  As much as we hate to admit it, people will rarely go out of their way to do things such as recycle when their exists a much-easier alternative. Blame it on laziness or business or something else entirely, that’s just how it works in society. Accordingly, recycling rates only tend to rise when recycling containers are as ubiquitous as garbage cans. It’s simply naive to think differently.

However, the one-bin-for-all decision is still somewhere in the future, and I look forward to how the City Council deliberates that matter. Councilmembers C.O. Bradford (D-At Large 4), Michael Kubosh (R-At Large 3), Mike Laster (D-District J) and Dave Martin (R-District E) were particularly vociferous in their remarks today. I honestly am still undecided on that issue, with even left-wing environmental groups being skeptical. I can’t wait to hear what some of these councilmembers have to say at the pertinent time.

What do you think?

Ads! Ads! Ads! Ads! Ads! Ads! Ads! Ads! Ads! Ads! Ads! Ads! Ads! Ads! Ads! Ads!

It’s the season for campaign ads, obviously. Just in the past few days, the campaigns of both State Senator Wendy Davis (D-Tarrant County), the Democratic candidate for Governor, and Attorney General Greg Abbott, the Republican candidate, have each released two new 30-second commercials, respectively. Both of Davis’ continue in her tradition of negativity, while Abbott’s stand at one positive and one negative.

In the succeeding paragraphs, I will attempt to briefly explain some of the recent commercials, what their immediate implications are and some of the deeper things to start thinking about with these airing on television. Now, I’m not a very prolific watcher of live TV, and all too often I merely stream programming from Houston on my television (Houston Astros games are hard to come by in Austin). Accordingly, I cannot say from firsthand experience how often these have been coming on the airwaves at, say, primetime as opposed to during weird hours.

In the first Abbott ad, the video cuts into him literally sitting on a large floor map of the United States, specifically over California. He then travels over to the Texas section, all the while narrating why companies are reportedly ditching the Golden State for the Lone Star State. Then, as the grind climax, the Texas section literally raises up as a podium. The entire thing is cheesier than Gouda. And while Abbott gives some specifics about low taxation and competitive regulation, the dialogue seems almost of second importance. The subliminal messaging is quite clear: what may originate in California will eventually end in Texas. It’s a tired phrase that has undoubtedly entered the political lexicon in Texas.

Additionally, and perhaps it’s just me, but I found Abbott’s wheelchair to be somewhat prominently featured in the ad. The camera is zoomed out far enough that you see all of him –not just his face– and then he very obviously rolls his chair across the mapped floor. I’m probably making too big a deal of it, but it stuck out to me. Abbott is obviously not averse to using his wheelchair/disability as a political tool to resonate with voters, given by the subject material of his first TV ad.

Second for the Abbott ads, in yet another 30-second spot that was released today, Abbott goes negative. He connects the dots about some broad shadow attacks that have been flung around at Davis for the past few weeks or so, regarding alleged conflicts of interest between a title company that she partially owned and contracts she voted on while serving on the Fort Worth City Council. The Dallas Morning News provided a pretty concise and fair summary of those issues rather recently, so I would suggest checking it out. The most important line from the report was that Davis never actually violated the ethics policy of the City of Fort Worth, nor engaged in any actual wrongdoing. The connections are supposedly just too close for comfort for some, I guess.

Obviously, it is a big deal that Abbott is going negative. He feels obliged to go down the road of more risk and more reward, rather than playing it safe with more of these sappy, positive shows of pathos. An argument could be made by someone more optimistic than me that this is a good sign of Davis closing the gap.

Davis’ fourth ad, entitled “Time Went By,” deals with the alleged gap between the uncovering of abuse at a juvenile detention center and the Attorney General’s (Abbott) response. The allegation has now received a “Mostly False” designation from PolitiFact.

The scandal occurred in 2005, when Texas Rangers began investigating abuse at the facility and, sensing delay from local prosecutors, one ranger appealed to the Attorney General’s office. What the Davis ad leaves out is that, under state law, the local prosecutor needs to ask the AG to step in. In 2007, after the scandal was leaked to the press, Abbott’s office indeed vigorously prosecutors the abusers.

Continuing in the tradition of negative ads with dark, ominous narration and no interaction on the part of Davis, this ad is yet another disappointment. Negative ads are an effective way to make an impact in a campaign, and I thought her first TV ad was a good way to do that, but dishonesty should never be tolerated in politics. It cheapens the process for all involved, on either side of the aisle. There are plenty of things to rightly knock Abbott on, but this is just not one of them. Obviously, the make takeaway here is that Davis’ ads are all about how Abbott merely uses his office to “cover” for insiders.

Last but not least, Davis’ most recent ad, which was also first released today. This story was described in somewhat vivid detail a few months ago by Texas Monthly, and –once again– I recommend checking it out. The surgeon involved, Christopher Dunstch, maimed and killed quite of few people before eventually being taken out of commission. In a lawsuit, restitution is obviously sought, but the constitutionality of a major tort reform law is also challenged.

The reason is that the current tort reform law currently has an absurdly high standard, “gross negligent,” for these types of holdings. Accordingly, before monsters like Duntsch can be removed from their capacity, quite a few atrocities sometimes must occur in order to prove the aforementioned gross negligence. The ad states that Abbott, after receiving $250,000 from the hospital’s chairman, intervened in the law to defend the hospital. This much is a tad bit misleading; he actually defended the constitutionality of the law.

Still, the apparent quid-pro-quo should be unsettling. And defending the bad law, for all intent and purp0ses, defends the hospital. I don’t know how Politifact will rate this one, but I am overall comfortable with its use. Hopefully, it is effective.

Once again, maybe I am over-analyzing this, but did anyone else notice the huge difference in aesthetic quality of the ads? The Abbott map ad looked to be poorly shot, and the attack ad was –in a word– cacophonous. I could be wrong, but it looks like the Davis campaign is putting more time and money into the production of the advertisements themselves.

Texpatriate endorses in State Legislative elections

Editorial note: This board will issue separate editorials in Senate District 17 and in House District 134. State Representatives Dan Huberty (R-127), Alma Allen (D-131), Sylvester Turner (D-139), Armando Walle (D-140), Senfronia Thompson (D-141), Harold Dutton Jr. (D-142) Ana Hernandez Luna (D-143), Carol Alvarado (D-145) and Garnet Coleman (D-147) are all unopposed. We will only issue endorsements for elections Statewide and in Harris County.

We like to be bipartisan and support pragmatic Republicans. We –controversially– endorsed Congressman Ted Poe‘s re-election this year, and last year we named City Councilmember Stephen Costello (R-At Large 1) as the best Councilmember in Houston. We want to believe in a world where the parties can set aside their small-minded ideology and work together to come up with solutions to the State’s problems. A world where extremist rhetoric is just something for the television cameras, and grown-up mentalities arise behind the closed doors of the session.

Unfortunately, we don’t live in that world. Only the willfully naive would actually think those idealistic goals are still feasible for the class running for the Texas Legislature as Republicans, or –for the most part– the Republican incumbents in the chamber. Accordingly, in overwhelming fashion, we endorse the Democrats.

There just are not two reasonable perspectives on all too many of the issues facing Texas today. Giving equal rights to people on the basis of their gender or sexual orientation is no longer an issue that should be seen as having two serious sides. Supporting corporal punishment in school is not something that normal people support, and yet, the Republicans in the State Legislature back it vehemently. While there is a reasonable debate to be had on gun control laws, supporting legislation that would allow for the imprisonment of Federal officials attempting to enforce Federal law is not within its confides.

Senate District 7
Paul Bettencourt, the Republican candidate for this seat, currently held by outgoing State Senator (and GOP Lieutenant Governor candidate) Dan Patrick, served as the Harris County Tax Assessor for many years. To put it lightly, his tenure was egregious. Back then, and still to this today, Bettencourt has demonstrated a troubling unfamiliarity with the taxation system.

Bettencourt supports the heavy reduction of property tax rate, without a legitimate plan to offset the lessened revenue. Such strong rhetoric absent meaningful political policies is truly not needed among those in the Texas Senate. However, we have yet to see any correspondence whatsoever from Bettencourt’s Democratic opponent, Jim Davis. He has no website, and has made no public statements on his candidacy thus far. Accordingly, we simply cannot support him in good faith.

Rather, this board has decided to go with the Libertarian candidate, Whitney Bilyeu. Unlike the Democrat, Bilyeu has been remarkably active both online and in person, campaigning incessantly throughout the community. While she shares Bettencourt’s silly belief to drastically lower property taxes, at least she is under no illusions about the tough spending decisions that would have to be made under such a scheme. A divergent ideology is easier to work with than inconsistency with reality.

Furthermore, we largely agree with Bilyeu’s positions on social issues, namely her opposition to the asinine prohibition on marijuana and her support for the 2/3rds rule in the Texas Senate.

Therefore, this board endorses Whitney Bilyeu for the Texas Senate, District 7.

Senate District 15
John Whitmire has honorably and capably served his constituents in the Texas Senate for more than 30 years, with an over-40 year career in the State Legislature. He currently serves as the Dean of the Texas Senate, a position that garners him a tremendous amount of respect from throughout both sides of the aisle. While we have certainly had some major qualms with Whitmire in the past, as we said last February in endorsing him over his Democratic primary challenger, Whitmire’s myriad strengths outnumber his weaknesses many times over.

Using similar criteria, we will support Whitmire once again over his Republican opponent, Ron Hale. While Hale, who unsuccessfully ran for the Houston City Council last year, has many redeeming qualities, we agree with Whitmire on most of the divisive issues that we have previously noted. Furthermore, residents of District 15 would be foolish to throw away the unmatched representation they can receive from a Senator who commands as much respect as Whitmire.

Accordingly, this board endorses John Whitmire for the Texas Senate, District 15.

House District 126
State Representative Patricia Harless, a Republican who has served in office since 2007, has supported many troubling right-wing causes, including the previously noted corporal punishment bill. She even was a prominent backer of the troubling “Guns on Campus” bill, which this board strongly opined against on numerous occasions.

But her only opponent, Libertarian Cris Hernandez, has no footprint online or in person, and apparently no experience whatsoever in government or politics. We also have a feeling that his political views are not any better than Harless’.

Accordingly, this board endorses Patricia Harless for the Texas House, District 126.

House District 128
By remarkably similar circumstances to the previously featured endorsement, this board chooses to endorse the Republican, Wayne Smith, the incumbent State Representative since 2003. His only opponent is the Libertarian, Ken Lowder.

House District 129
After many years, the incumbent State Representative, John Davis, will retire from his position representing a large constituency around the Clear Lake area. Davis was a comparably pragmatic Republican, one whose presence in the capitol will indubitably be missed.

However, in a remarkably strange turn of events, both general election candidates for this post are ideologically consistent. The Republican, Dennis Paul, and the Democrat, John Gay, have Tea Party affiliated political views. Despite his evidently new partisan label, Gay has been active for many years in the bay region as an unabashed conservative. Accordingly, much like a primary election, we will determine who is the best candidate based on his leadership skills.

On that front, the choice is crystal clear. The ostensible “Republican,” Dennis Paul, has years of experience in political wrangling and government affairs. Gay, on the other hand, has always been a fringe observer from afar. Thus, this board endorses Dennis Paul for the Texas House, District 129.

House District 130
By remarkably similar circumstances to the previous featured endorsements in HD126 and HD128, this board chooses to endorse the Republican, Allen Fletcher, the incumbent State Representative since 2009. His only opponent is the Green, Arthur Browning.

House District 132
State Representative Bill Callegari, a veteran of the Texas House since 2001, retired following last session. He was an inconsistent Republican ally for pragmatism and common sense, sometimes coming to the aid of sensible solutions and sometimes not. Unfortunately, in the heated Republican primary to succeed him, it only looks like more of the same. Mike Schofield, the Republican nominee for this position, still advocates for cutting government spending even more. This board pegs the question of, merely, how?

How are we supposed to further cut spending with invaluable government programs, such as transportation infrastructure and education, already cut down to the studs? Especially when the state’s coffers are literally overflowing with surplus funds. Schofield’s small-minded ideology has clouded his ability to see what is, while losing track of what is truly best for Texas. Luckily, there is another option.

Luis Lopez, the Democrat, has not only a greatly-inspiring life story, but a great grasp on the issues that represent deeply divergent points of view from Schofield. An immigrant himself at a very young age, he not only possesses the empathy needed to be an effective representative, but he understands the logistics of the issue itself.

Lopez is supportive of compassionate-yet-realistic immigration positions. He would be a great improvement for the education system, and also supports the repeal of damaging anti-abortion legislation that endangers thousands upon thousands of Texas women. Accordingly, this board endorses Luis Lopez for the Texas House, District 132.

House District 133
State Representative Jim Murphy has capably represented his constituents for a few terms now, first from 2007 to 2009 and then from 2011 to the present. We have found him to be sincere in his convictions and working with good intention to best represents his constituents. However, the political views that he has espoused are dangerously out of step. As noted in many of the previous endorsements, we have a serious problem with legislators who have taken egregious legislative action, such as voting to condone corporal punishment in schools, standing against equal pay for women or denying gays and lesbians some of their basic human rights. Simply put, this board finds no possible way in which we could support Murphy for another term.

Murphy’s opponent, Democrat Laura Nicol, presents plenty of her own concerns. She prompts a few questions about her preparation to hold public office, but we fervently believe that those concerns are heavily outweighed by the qualms we have with the incumbent. We believe that, at the end of the day, many of the positions that Nicol espouses are closer to our point of perspective, and so we will give her our nod.

Accordingly, this board endorses Laura Nicol for the Texas House, District 133.

House District 135
State Representative Gary Elkins kept a rather low profile last legislative session, mostly staying out of the spotlight throughout contentious moments, and merely becoming one of the rank-and-file in the Republican caucus, voting for many of the unacceptable policies.

However, Elkins’ great claim to fame came in the 2011 legislative session, when Elkins was one of the most instrumental forces behind the killing of a bill designed to reign in the usurious excesses of payday lenders. This, despite the fact that Elkins had a financial interest in no fewer than a dozen such lenders. His massive conflict of interest even drew the ire and rebuke of compatriots within his own party. However, this past session, Elkins was yet again a driving force behind the utter lack of any meaningful action to limit the despicable excesses of these loan sharks.

We don’t really know much about Elkins’ Democratic opponent, Moiz Abbas. Frankly, we don’t really care. Either vote for him or undervote if you do not want to play roulette with your ballot. Either way, this board believes that you shouldn’t vote for Elkins.

House District 136
State Representative Tony Dale will be seeking his second term in this suburban district long held by Beverly Woolley, a bombastic Tea Party leader. Dale, a Republican freshman, has continued in her tradition somewhat well –not that it’s a good thing. Dale, like we have said about ten times at this point, is beholden to many of the Texas Republican platitudes that make us apprehensive about supporting him.

Fortunately, Dale’s Democratic opponent, John Bucy III, would be a fabulous replacement. We believe that Bucy has both the experience and the temperament to be good, even-handed Legislator in this peculiar State. Bucy supports all the right progressive causes, such as equal rights for LGBT people, a woman’s right to choose and the urgent need to raise the minimum wage. However, he stops short of the excesses espoused by many in the Austin elite, as he rightly rules out raising taxes.

Accordingly, this board endorses John Bucy III for the Texas House, District 136.

House District 137
State Representative Gene Wu was named by this board as the Best Member of the Texas House in our rankings last session. We obviously believe that he deserves another chance to represent his constituents at the Capitol. At the time, we lauded Wu’s steadfast dedication to both doing the right thing in the House and trying to deliver up-to-the-minute information to his constituents via social media.

As we said last year, the most impression action on the part of Wu –in our eyes– was his fiery pushback against a bill that would have criminalized so-called “ballot harvesting,” essentially making it illegal to be a Good Samaritan seeking others in voting. Thanks to the needed media attention to this bill that Wu was instrumental in orchestrating, the bill’s most draconian sections were nixed in the Senate.

We find Wu’s Republican opponent, Morad Fiki, to be a man with noble intentions, but he is just not right for the 137th District. The people of Sharpstown deserve a true leader who will vehemently defend their interests and fight on their behalf. Thus, this board endorses Gene Wu for the Texas House, District 137.

House District 144
The incumbent State Representative, Mary Ann Perez, a Democrat, faces no credible opposition. We have largely been satisfied with her work as a legislator. Thus, this board endorses her for the Texas House, District 144.

House District 146
The incumbent State Representative, Borris Miles, a Democrat, faces no credible opposition. We have largely been satisfied with his work as a legislator. Thus, this board endorses Borris Miles for the Texas House, District 146.

House District 148
State Representative Jessica Farrar has represented her constituents well for nearly twenty years. As the Chair of the House Democratic Caucus, she is the de facto Minority Leader in the lower house. In this role, she has been spectacularly receptive and accommodating to the needs of everyday Texans. From social issues to economic hurdles, the middle class and poor of Texas have few greater advocates in the State Government than Farrar. She has a solid track record on leadership, and her constituents would be wise to send her back to the Legislature once more.

Farrar’s Republican opponent, Chris Carmona, represents a new brand of Republicanism. He is younger, more inclusive and more pragmatic than most of his compatriots who hold high office. We wish him the best of luck in future endeavors and in any campaign to reign in the partisan extremes of his political party, but he is not right for the 148th District. Jessica Farrar is.

As the Vice-Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, Farrar nobly leads on both law & order issues and justice issues. She bravely introduced legislation recently that would abolish the death penalty in Texas, a position to which we have concurred to consistently.

Accordingly, this board endorses Jessica Farrar for the Texas House, District 148.

House District 149
Representative Hubert Vo has served as a good representative for his community for many terms. He meets his constituents and is receptive to their concerns. We think the voters of the 149th District would be wise to stick with their advocate in Austin and vote for Vo once more.

By Hoang’s own admission, his candidacy is all about Vo’s opposition to an omnibus anti-abortion bill last year aimed at shutting down abortion clinics. This board proudly stands with Vo against the misguided piece of legislation, but we think that a political campaign should consist of far more than that. Of course, Hoang, who served on the Houston City Council until being thrown out by voters last November, should know that. Vo was right on that issue, but —more importantly— he is right on the way that he effectively governs in the neighborhood.

Accordingly, this board endorses Hubert Vo for the Texas House, District 149.

House District 150
What can we say about State Representative Debbie Riddle, the Tea Party Republican who has represented this district in northwestern Harris County for many years? She is, at the core, a hateful person who all too often seeks to demonize members of the community in order to prove a political point. In 2012, she got into an online feud with a Law Student of Pakistani descent. After he critiqued the current foreign policy of this country, Riddle derided him in xenophobic fashion that he should move to Afghanistan, and a broad array of other sanctimonious and hateful notions.

Unfortunately, this is not the only such incident that Riddle has engaged in. She has lambasted the society-accepted idea of free education, characterizing it as a socialist scheme that came from, and we quote, “the pit of hell.”

Thankfully for the voters of the 150th District, they have another option. Amy Perez, a schoolteacher, is a smart and energetic Democratic candidate that presents herself as a respectful, pragmatic and intelligent alternative to Riddle. She supports offsetting the harmful cuts done to public schools in recent legislative sessions, while Riddle evidently thinks their very existence is inherently hellish.

Accordingly, this board endorses Amy Perez for the Texas House, District 150.

The Texpatriate Editorial Board is comprised of Noah M. Horwitz & Olivia Arena of Austin, George Bailey of Boston, Luis Fayad of College Station and Andrew Scott Romo of New Orleans. Editorials represent a majority opinion of the board.

Texpatriate’s Questions for David Rosen

Editorial note: This is the fourteenth in our series of electronic interviews with candidates for Statewide and Harris County offices. We have sent questionnaires to every candidate on the ballot, given we could find a working email address. We have printed their answers verbatim as we receive them. If you are or work for such a candidate, and we did not send a questionnaire, please contact us <info@texpate.com>.

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David Rosen, Democratic candidate for Harris County Treasurer

Texpatriate: What is your name?
DR: David Rosen

T: How long have your held this post? What number term are you seeking?
DR: I am a challenger to an incumbent. I do not hold this post, and I am seeking what would be my first term.

T: Please list all the elected or appointed POLITICAL (including all Judicial) offices you have previously held, and for what years you held them.
DR: I have never held an elected or appointed political office.

T: What is your political party?
DR: I am a Democrat.

T: What do you think the role of the County Treasurer should be?
DR: You deserve to know where your money is going. As your Harris County Treasurer, I will create an online portal where anyone with an internet connection can see money going in and out of our local government coffers in as close to real-time as possible. This data is currently uploaded once a month by the incumbent in the form of a gigantic PDF file. I want to make this data searchable and user-friendly, similar to how former District Clerk Loren Jackson made the data flowing in and out of that office more navigable. This information should be available to any person at any time for any reason. If elected County Treasurer, I will act as if I was the Chief Transparency Officer of Harris County.

Harris County government is in desperate need for more transparency. In the last six years, three of our Constables have been indicted and a County Commissioner and County Budget Officer both resigned their offices, all because of alleged financial improprieties.

In other counties, the County Treasurer may also have some finance, auditing, forecasting or budgeting responsibilities. The office of Harris County Treasurer has largely been relegated to serve in an accounts payable/accounts receivable function. I would like to see Commissioners Court restore some of the responsibilities to this office that were stripped from the County Treasurer in the mid-1990s, when Don Sumners held the position.

I also want to use this office to do some social good – to partner with local non-profits that teach basic personal finance and financial literacy to young people in Harris County’s roughest neighborhoods.

T: Do you believe that the incumbent has specifically failed at her or his job? If so, why?
DR: The longer my opponent remains in office, the less relevant and the less visible this office becomes. Most people have never heard of the County Treasurer unless they received a check for serving as a juror. So far as I know, in my opponent’s eight years in office, he has only publicly issued two official opinions: first, he spoke up against interest rate default swaps (years after the interest rate default swaps went sour), and secondly, he said the scrolling marquees on Metro buses should not display the words “Go Texans!”

I would challenge anyone who is thinking of voting for my opponent to go to the County Treasurer’s new website and see for themselves how our monthly expenditures are displayed.

You deserve better. You deserve to know where your money is going.

T: Why you, as opposed to your opponents?
DR: I am a lifelong Houstonian, the son of two local public schoolteachers and a former Student Body President at the University of Houston. I work in communications at an offshore engineering company and at night I am earning my MBA from the University of Houston’s C.T. Bauer College of Business. I am set to graduate in May of next year.

I am the only candidate in this race who is campaigning on a specific platform of changes to be made to this office and to local policy. I am running with the support of hundreds of Democrats, independents and Republicans from across Harris County.

My opponent is an entrenched part of the system that I am trying to change.

I am the only candidate in this race who has not been sanctioned by the Texas Ethics Commission on four separate occasions. I am the only candidate in this race who has not run for office ten different times for four different positions. I am the only candidate in this race who is not named Orlando Sanchez.

T: There has recently been talk of abolishing this office, much like the former position of State Treasurer. Is this a good idea? Why or why not?
DR: Former Republican primary candidate for County Treasurer Arnold Hinojosa and former Democratic County Treasurer nominee Richard Garcia have both publicly said that they support abolishing this position. I believe that such criticism from both sides of the political spectrum is more of a reflection on the guy who holds the office rather than a reflection of the office itself.

We need more people, not fewer people, watching our public money. If used properly, this office can be a powerful tool to shine a light on local government spending.

The office of State Treasurer was abolished in 1995 and its duties were absorbed by the State Comptroller, a similar office that is directly answerable to the voters. There is no similar public elected office in Harris County that would absorb the duties of the County Treasurer if the position was abolished.

Abolishing the County Treasurer’s office would require an amendment to the State Constitution. It is not as simple as pressing a button or flipping a switch – it would be a long, expensive process that would require a statewide vote.

The office of County Treasurer has been abolished in eight Texas counties, but none since the 1980s. In the past, Commissioners Courts around Texas have threatened to abolish the office when those Commissioners have clashed politically with the person holding the office of County Treasurer. This happened in Fort Bend County in 2005, for instance, in Harris County in the 1990s when Don Sumners was County Treasurer, and again more recently in 2007. All three of those attempts failed.

T:  The Democratic nominee for this position has advocated creating same-sex partner benefits for the employees of Harris County. Is this desirable? Furthermore, is this an appropriate issue for the County Treasurer (if so, why)?
DR: My parents are the reason that I got involved in politics. They taught me that if I had three meals a day to eat and a roof over my head, that I should consider myself lucky, and that I owed it to my community to try to make things better for other people.

My parents retired last year after working for more than 70 combined years as public schoolteachers in the Houston area. They have been together 28 years and they are married, but because of their sexual orientation they are still not able to share health insurance. This is a tremendous financial hardship that was placed on my working-class family for no reason other than because my parents are gay.

I have been calling for marriage equality and insurance equality since long before I ever became a candidate for County Treasurer, and I will continue talking about this issue until couples like my parents are finally treated equally under the law.

T: What are the three most important issues to you, and what is at least one thing you have done to address each of them?
DR: 1)      Equality for my GLBT friends and family members – the fight for GLBT equality can only be described as my generation’s civil rights movement. This is an issue that is also tremendously important to me and my family, since I was raised by two Moms. Earlier this year, I released a campaign video featuring my gay parents and touting my support for gay rights – so far as we know, this is the first time that an American political candidate with GLBT parents has featured their family in an advertisement. From the outset of this campaign, I have called for same-sex partner benefits to be offered to the employees of Harris County. In May, I had the privilege of sharing our story in OutSmart Magazine. Later that month we appeared as a family on KPFT’s radio show Queer Voices. 

2)      Getting the next generation of activists involved in local politics – I am thrilled to campaign alongside volunteers from the Lamar High School Young Democrats, the Rice Young Democrats, and a group called West U for Progress.

3)      Mentoring young people in my former neighborhood of Alief – joining the debate team in 7th grade at Killough Middle School changed my life for the better. My former coach, Mrs. Sandra Jones, was one of the most important people from my childhood and she is still a good friend. I have mentored students on the debate team at Killough as a volunteer debate coach, 15 years after I was captain of the same debate team.

 

Complaint filed against Judge Franklin

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The Houston Chronicle reports that Greg Enos, the prominent attorney who was behind a series of criminal complaints that ultimately brought down Family District Judge Denise Pratt, has now filed yet another complaint against her successor. Judge Alicia Franklin, who defeated Pratt in a Republican primary after she abruptly resigned, was appointed by Governor Rick Perry in June to fill out the remainder of Pratt’s term. She is also the Republican candidate for a full four-year term in the post this November, where she faces Sherri Cothrun, an attorney who is her Democratic opponent.

Enos alleges that Franklin abused her power as a court-appointed attorney on CPS related cases, as she did extensively prior to her assuming judicial office. Enos’ detailed each and every one of his allegations in somewhat meticulous detail in his intermittent newsletter, The Mongoose. I cannot state strongly enough have vehemently I urge you to read the full newsletter and the explanation for the allegations made in painstaking detail.

First, Enos accuses Franklin of billing exorbitant hours for individual days, often much more than 10 hours and –on one occasion– 23.5 hours. Typically, billings for ad litem appointments such as this one exclude what is called an “administrative task,” such as driving, postal work, etc. Only legal work should ostensibly be included.

Second, Franklin allegedly charged for work after she became a Judge, which –if true– would be a huge violation of State law and ethical codes. Third, when she received one of these neutral appointments, she allegedly received a campaign contribution from one of the interested parties.

Fourth, as I explained above, she allegedly billed for many –as Enos put it– “non-lawyer” tasks, such as going to the post office, electronically filing documents or merely printing the documents. Lastly, Enos found an issue with Franklin adorning her campaign placards with pleas to be “re-elected,” even though she is merely the appointed incumbent. After checking with the relevant authorities at the Commission on Judicial Conflict, Enos confirmed that it would be an ethical violation to do so.

Franklin has reportedly retained a PR firm, Begala/McGarth, and has been somewhat silent on this issue to all involved. Last month, Franklin defended her billing practices as a collaborative total number of hours which included work accrued by her associates. Of course, according to the law, allowing others’ work to be included within your ad litem billing is prohibited as well. Franklin also defended the pay vouchers submitted while she was a Judge as work that had occurred before her appointment. Of course, the Chronicle notes that some of the pay vouchers show work apparently done after she was sworn-in.

My friend Greg at Rhymes with Right defended Franklin somewhat vigorously, employing the same strategy of work done by associates. He also goes further in stating that she received a phone call to be appointed rather hastily, and her associates needed time to close down shop, explaining the post-Judge hours billed. I suppose that is logical, but Franklin explicitly chose not to invoke it when confronted on the billings made while she was on the bench. Additionally, given that the incumbent had resigned and Franklin had won the Republican primary, was anyone actually surprised by her appointment? It was pretty much a foregone conclusion.

All in all, I think there is enough evidence for the District Attorney’s office to begin an investigation. Beyond that, I don’t think I know enough about the situation one way or another. Enos did reveal that much of the dirt he obtained occurred as a result of Sherri Cothrun, the Democrat in the race. Cothrun, for what its worth, recent brought Burt Levine onto her campaign. Levine, of course, formerly had extensive ties to Denise Pratt.

Additionally, it should be noted that Cothrun’s law partner, Rita Lucido, who you may recognize as the Democratic candidate for the 17th Senate District, was the attorney that represented the man who allegedly donated to Franklin in the aforementioned case. The one where the donator was an interested party and Franklin was a neutral court-appointee.

If you thought The Mongoose‘s involvement at the courthouse was done, think again!

Big Jolly Politics and Off the Kuff have more.