Garcia looks to run for Mayor

The Houston Chronicle reports that Sheriff Adrian Garcia, the highest ranking Democrat in Harris County (and arguably the state), is taking decisive steps toward running for mayor. Garcia, who previously served as a member of the Houston City Council from 2004 to 2008, has been the Sheriff for two-terms. Under state law, the instant he announces his intention to run, Garcia will be compelled to resign. This would have the effect empowering the Harris County Commissioner’s Court, which sways 4-1 Republican, with the ability to appoint his successor.

Garcia has been mentioned as a possible mayoral candidate before, but only recently have his advisers become more frank with reporters about his probable intentions. With sky-high name ID, at least compared to some of the other pretenders to the throne, Garcia would have the ability to immediately become one of the top candidates.

In other mayoral news, former Congressman Chris Bell has officially announced his run (via Facebook). A more formal event will occur somewhere in Houston this weekend. Among others in the definite column are State Representative Sylvester Turner (D-Harris County), former Mayor of Kemah Bill King, City Councilmembers Stephen Costello (R-At Large 1), Oliver Pennington (R-District G), former City Attorney Ben Hall and Marty McVey. There are quite a few others who are still maybes.

Garcia has some baggage that would accompany the run, to say the least. Last fall, the Sheriff’s office received some indescribably bad press around the world when an inmate was kept in subhuman conditions. In the rough and tumble world of municipal politics, I expect this issue to come up more than once.

I like Garcia a lot (I happily voted for him 2012) and think he would do great in some higher offices, namely County Judge. But resigning his position like this for a long-shot mayoral race is not the correct course of action, especially when his replacement as sheriff will likely be significantly more conservative and could easily rescind some of the valuable progress made in the Sheriff’s office recently. In my opinion, to do so is rather selfish.

The addition of Garcia to the list also does not change my prediction of the most-likely runoff participants; it is still Turner and Pennington. Unfortunately, the Hispanic community in Houston, which would likely be Garcia’s main base, just does not vote with any strength whatsoever in municipal elections. Given the plethora of other candidates who will be competing for every inch of the electorate, I just do not see a plausible pathway to victory for Garcia. But that’s why we have elections, I suppose.

Brains & Eggs, Dos Centavos and Off the Kuff have more.

Texpatriate endorses in County Civil Judgeships

The four County Civil Courts at Law in Harris County constitute special places. The arbiter of civil disputes ranging from $200 to $200,000, they serve an interesting role in the legal system. Above Justice of the Peace courts and other small claims divisions (to which they serve as an appeal setting), they often represent monetary disputes that could make or break a person’s livelihood. But below the hefty price ceiling set, they mostly involve disputes between people and not huge corporations. Like their brethren across the street in County Criminal Courts, these Judges’ courtrooms are truly where the rubber meets the road of government.

Both the Republican incumbent Judges and the Democratic challengers are qualified to serve in the role. However, the courts consist of far more than simply a rosy, romanticized setting for citizens to bring their individual monetary disputes to court. Debt collection is a common feature, as are eviction hearings. Eminent domain hearings, as well as the proposals to receive an occupational driver’s license (almost always after the forfeit of one following a DWI) are also covered by the court. For these issues, in addition to qualifications, Judges are needed with the right temperament. Judges are needed who will be, in a word, compassionate.

Things such as board certification, age, law school and political campaign viability are not criteria that any reasonable person should ever prioritize in making these selections. With very few exceptions, the individuals recruited by the Democratic and Republican parties, respectively, to run for judicial posts are qualified attorneys. Their distinctions do not materialize themselves on their resumes, but upon their policy records.

For these and other reasons, we have decided to go with the three Democrats running in contested races. While the incumbents are well-qualified, we simply believe that their opponents are better poised to oversee a courtroom of compassion and equity, in addition to law and justice. Judge Debra Mayfield, a Republican incumbent running unopposed for County Civil Court at Law #1, is a qualified jurist who deserves your vote as well.

COUNTY CIVIL COURT AT LAW #2
Judge Theresa Chang has had a unique background before getting into the judiciary. A Republican, she served briefly as the Harris County District Clerk from 2007 to 2008. Indisputably qualified, we have concerns nonetheless about her compassion and temperament on the bench. Furthermore, numerous attorneys who have practiced in her court have voiced concern about rather nonchalant practices that limit voire dire, otherwise known as the selection of juries. For the invaluable component of all trial work, it has been alleged that Chang sometimes limits these sessions, often known to take entire mornings, to less than an hour. Such a move for expediency’s sake is not one any court in Harris County should ever make.

The Democratic candidate, Scot Dollinger, would be — in our opinion — a far more compassionate alternative. He would not merely make choices on the basis of “judicial economy,” but would look out for the individual interests of those with business before his court. In speaking with the editorial board, Dollinger outlined an ambitious plan to consolidate much of the work of County Civil Courts, allowing them to work together in what he calls a “unit” to solve the more complex problems. We certainly think it is a good idea, one that deserves full consideration.

Moreover, he would be far less likely to impose his ideology into court proceedings. For example, state law allows for those with forfeited drivers licenses following DWI arrests to receive occupational licenses, that is allowing the operation of a car in limited circumstances, after a brief hearing. While some judges make a point of using the bench as a soapbox for lectures on moral values, we think Dollinger would simply follow the law and competently provide due process –without the fanfare.

Accordingly, this board endorses Scot Dollinger for Harris County Civil Court at Law #2.

COUNTY CIVIL COURT AT LAW #3
Judge Linda Storey is seeking her third term in office, representing this all-important court. A Republican, she has done an adequate job on the bench, and if your number one priority is protecting the court system from any bumps or transitional pains, we recommend a vote for the incumbent. She knows the law, usually applies it within her legal bounds and effectively manages her docket.

However, like the above contest, we simply think that her Democratic opponent, Gloria Minnick, is far better situated to deal with the issues arising in this court with compassion and pragmatism. Minnick is obviously also well-qualified to be a Judge; she has practiced law in both the public and private sector for more than two decades.

In courts such as this one, it is not uncommon to hear dozens of eviction hearings in one sitting. On this issue and others like it, our first choice is obviously who would be well-suited to rule on the law. But, given that both candidates would be well qualified in that distinction, we have decided to go with who would maintain a humanistic approach to the issue rather than just one of black letter law. Texas has made the choice to elect its judges because, among other reasons, we have decided as a state to allow all voters — and not just attorneys — to choose who should make legal rulings on our behalf. To represent the people and the law, the choice is clear.

Accordingly, this board endorses Gloria Minnick for Harris County Civil Court at Law #3.

COUNTY CIVIL COURT AT LAW #4
Judge Roberta Lloyd is likewise seeking her third full term in office. A longtime attorney with the Harris County Attorney’s office, she is uniquely qualified to be in this position. Serving multiple times as the administrative judge for these courts, Lloyd, a Republican, demonstrably knows the intricacies of this type of law. However, much like the other contested contests, we think that the citizens of Harris County would be nominally better off with change.

Lloyd’s husband serves as an adviser to County Commissioner Jack Cagle (R-Precinct 4), an individual on the body charged with overseeing these courts, the same body that even originally appointed Lloyd to the bench (Editorial note: Com. Cagle was not serving at the time that Judge Lloyd was first appointed). Alone, this tidbit would be a rather venial offense, but it is part of a greater pattern for Lloyd. Recent bar association polls rated her poorly and lawyers who do business before her court often complain.

The Democratic candidate, Damon Crenshaw, seeks to be the polar opposite. He has been endorsed by active bar association groups, such as the Mexican-American Bar Association and the Association of Women Attorneys, which have tended this election cycle to cautiously endorse Republican incumbents. Crenshaw has more than 25 years of experience as an attorney, making her qualified to serve much like Lloyd. However, unlike the incumbent Judge, this board strongly believes that Crenshaw would be a powerful force for compassion in the courts and pragmatism on the bench.

Accordingly, this board endorses Damon Crenshaw for Harris County Civil Court at Law #4.

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 endorses for County Judge

Counties in Texas are managed by a five-person Commissioner’s Court. Four commissioners are selected from different precincts, each representing roughly a quarter of the population. The fifth member is the County Judge, elected countywide to manage the affairs of the county and preside over the commissioners’ court, though no trials.

Since 2007, the County Judgeship of Harris County has been in the capable hands of Ed Emmett. A former member of the Texas House of Representatives for four terms from 1979 to 1987, Emmett represents a seemingly dying breed of moderate Republicans. A transportation planner by trade, he has served on the Interstate Commerce Commission and understands the need for vigorous expansion of mass transit options. He has fought for Texas to assent to Obamacare’s proposed Medicaid expansion, and he is a perpetual advocate for the preservation of the Astrodome. On social issues, Emmett takes a largely moderate stance, and thinks the County should have no role in regulating or commenting upon them.

But Emmett’s greatest asset is his inimitable leadership qualities. In 2008, when Hurricane Ike devastated the entire region, Emmett was a familiar face who tirelessly worked day and night to turn the lights back on and maintain normalcy in Houston. While voters have judged Emmett twice since that time, and we should really be judging his actions in the last quadrennial, his skillful leadership during the tragedy have set the stage for a constantly prepared County Judge. Emmett’s face is usually on a billboard or two every summer, with his signature phrase “Hunker Down,” and his office is one of the best prepared in the State for dealing with possible tropical cyclones.

Simply put, we believe that Emmett is our best representative on the Commissioner’s Court. He shows an understanding and a empathy for the average person to an extent nearly unheard of in today’s crop of politician. And, most importantly, he prioritizes pragmatism and big solutions over ideology and small-minded partisanship.

This was put on full display earlier this year when Emmett put his money where his mouth was, so to speak, on that front. He largely underwrote the campaign of Paul Simpson, who had challenged Jared Woodfill for Chairman of the Harris County Republican Party. Woodfill was a zealot who put undue priority on divisive social issues and bullied more moderate members of the party. Simpson, with Emmett’s help, defeated Woodfill and has begun making the County Republicans arguably a little more of a “big tent” party. We are ecstatic to see it.

Emmett’s only opponent, after his Democratic adversary dropped out, is Green candidate David Collins. While he means well, even he lauds the record that Emmett has. Simply put, we think that, since the incumbent has done a good job, he should be rewarded with another term.

Unfortunately, Emmett has announced that -assuming he wins- this next term will be his past. We thoroughly hope this means that he will run for Governor in 2018. Removed from party labels, he has done wonders for Harris County. Hopefully, Texas will be next.

Accordingly, this board endorses Ed Emmett for County Judge.

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.

Another Astrodome proposal

Reliant_Astrodome_in_January_2014

The Houston Chronicle reports that County Judge Ed Emmett (R) has unveiled yet another plan for the Astrodome: turning it into a large indoor park and recreation center. Under Emmett’s vision, the area would have “a large open green for festivals and other community gatherings, general exercise facilities, an amphitheater, a pavilion for music and other events  and special educational facilities for children, even museums.”

The announcement was made at a rather grandiose press conference by the County Judge, and served mainly as an opportunity to provide a vision on the idea, not to work out the details. Emmett freely admitted that he has not run the numbers on what all of this would cost, and from the sounds of it, the total expenditures would likely be pricey. As the astute will surely recall, there was a previous proposal to renovate the Astordome –which has stood vacant for about 10 years– last year. The County Judge and Commissioners approved idea, which would have created $217 Million in bonds to repurpose the dome into a convention center, was shot down by voters in a November referendum. Exit polls heavily insinuated that voters’ key concern was its high cost.

After the referendum boondoggle, many began to think the Astrodome would likely be demolished. A much, much cheaper proposal was floated to demolish the dome and convert it into a park with a small “replica dome” around where home plate once stood. However, progress on demolition came to a grounding halt at the end of last month, when a State Commission indefinitely tabled a designation on the site’s historical status. Needless to say, it’s been a long and grueling ride.

As I stated in one of the previous articles linked to this post, I am still very conflicted on the Astrodome. While I wholeheartedly supported last year’s resolution, the people spoke and rejected spending a significant amount of money to renovate it. I obviously still disagree with their small-minded, senseless and carpetbagger-esque rationale, but there is something to be said for a public servant who follows the desires of his constituents. Emmett spoke today about securing private funds for this project. If there is any modicum of a chance that is possible, I sincerely wish it to happen, but color me skeptical. I have no doubt that if outside funding had previously been a realistic source of revenue, in order to mitigate the damage done to taxpayers, it would have been used for last year’s resolution.

All in all, as you are probably aware by this point, the total and final say on what happens to the dome is with the Commissioner’s Court, which Emmett rules over somewhat firmly. Granted that he’s a shoe-in to stay in his current post until early 2019, two years after we host the Super Bowl, this could prove very interesting. Emmett, for his part, has stated that he will, in no circumstances, be okay with the Astrodome being demolished. County Commissioner El Franco Lee (D-Pct 1), for what it’s worth, was the only Commissioner interviewed by the Chronicle to voice an opinion on today’s proposal. He was cautiously optimistic.

What do you think about the dome proposal?

Conflicted on the Dome

Reliant_Astrodome_in_January_2014

EricEnfermero –

The Houston Chronicle reports that the Astrodome now looks slated for demolition. The Houston Texans and the Livestock Show & Rodeo have both endorsed a $66 Million plan to level the dome and replace the space with some sort of “green space.” The plan, which I recall hearing my friend Perry Dorrell (Brains & Eggs) discuss at length in the past, demolishes all but the outside skeleton of the dome, then fills in the depression with grass. Thus, an open air structure would stand that would pay tribute to the Astrodome while requiring minimal upkeep. It is a fitting tribute to the dome, though it is significantly more expensive than just paving over it.

As the astute will surely recall, a contentious fight erupted last year when a proposition was put on the ballot to spend over $200 Million renovating the dome into a modern convention center. Texpatriate wholeheartedly supported that proposal, but it ended up failing by a few percentage points. After that, some talk has occurred over designating the structure a landmark, though it is exceedingly unlikely this would actually prevent demolition if the powers-to-be truly wished for it. In the last few months, the Editorial Board has heatedly debated the prospect of another editorial on the topic (e.g., “Tear down the Dome!” or “Not yet, a desperate plea”), but there was not enough support one way or another to write anything.

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Commissioners’ salaries go up

The Houston Chronicle reports that the Harris County Commissioners’ are discussing hiking the salaries of most county officials. The notable exceptions are the Judges with a local jurisdiction, whose salaries are tied to that of the District Judge, set by the State Legislature. Similarly tied is the salary of the County Judge.

However, the Constables, County Attorney, County Clerk, County Commissioners, County Treasurer, District Attorney, District Clerk, Sheriff and Tax Assessor-Collector will all receive modest increases in their salaries. When I say “modest,” I truly mean somewhat miniscule. For example, the County Commissioners accused of these nefariously dealing with regard to “voting themselves a raise” would simply see 11% hike, which would be near the top of the raises. Towards the low end, the District Clerk would only see his salary go up by little more than 5%.

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Blood tests could become pricey

The Houston Chronicle reports that individuals in Harris County could soon be picking up the tab for their blood tests if convicted DWI (driving while intoxicated). The County, which has spent over $350k on these blood tests in recent years, is seeking to recoup some of these losses from the fines of those convicted of the pertinent offenses.

County Commissioner Jack Cagle, a Republican representing Precinct 4 (northeast quadrant), seemed supportive of the measure but felt it would be ideal to rather encourage the Legislature to revise the law. The easiest solution, he pondered, would be to make the blood test a standard component of “court costs,” which are normally included in the fines assessed to those convicted.

As the Chronicle article notes, the District Clerk’s office was supportive of the idea, while the District Attorney’s office noted that Judges could already assess the fines if the “arresting agency” requests it. Judge Sherman Ross was tepid about the proposal, however, as were criminal defense attorneys.

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