A little bit of housekeeping

As you may have noticed, posts on this publication have become less and less frequent in recent months. This reflects a changing reality for me, and a transition when it comes to some of my priorities. Don’t worry, this isn’t the “End of Texpatriate” obituary; rather, it is a admittance that this blog no longer can function the way it did in 2013, when we had 3 active contributors and at least 3 articles per day, if not more.

While the Texpatriate Editorial Board is still extant, its membership has been truncated and its activity has been rather dormant. I can’t really imagine that changing, in all honesty.

For at least the remainder of this academic semester, I will not be opining about national or state politics on this blog. I might break that rule is something really big happens, but probably not. When it comes to local politics, I will do my best to interject a fresh opinion every now and then, but I just do not have the time to report on breaking news in a timely fashion. When I first started Texpatriate, I often made a point of urging readers not to use the publication for first-hand news. That principle is as true now as ever. The Houston Chronicle, despite my myriad critiques, truly does yeoman’s work in reporting local political stories. Their newest addition to that beat, Teddy Schleifer, is particularly talented.

Since I started college (which, not coincidentally, is when I started this blog), I have been involved with the  newspaper on campus. At Brandeis that was The Justice and here at UT-Austin that is The Daily Texan. I am currently the Senior Associate Editor at the Texan, which essentially means that I am an overseer of the editorial section as well as have a few side projects of my own.

If you’re still interested in what I have to say on state politics, I actually do edit and contribute to another blog at the Texan, named “A Matter of Opinion.” I write 2-3 posts a week there, all about state politics, and my colleagues also contribute stellar analyses. Further, I pen most all of the editorials pertaining to legislative and political topics, which run most every day. Finally, I also host a radio show (in Austin) on KVRX every Monday at 4:00 PM, predominantly about state politics, which is recorded and uploaded online as a podcast. For copyright reasons, I cannot post the actual content on this publication.

If you are so inclined, please consider checking it out. The Texan is the only college newspaper in the state that actually produces serious political content — news and editorial — that becomes part of the conversation with some frequency. I have been honored to get the opportunities I have there, but running this blog may have been one of the greatest honors of all. Thank you all for reading, and please come back!

Texpatriate’s Best Councilmembers

Last year, this board examined the best and the worst members of the Houston City Council. After much debate and discussion, we decided to do it again. That being said, our criteria for inclusion — one way or another — has shifted considerably. Last year, we examined which councilmembers agreed with us on our policy goals and priorities the most. As such, the rankings delved into far more of a scorecard than an actual ranking. Looking back, such an assessment of a small and intimate deliberative body was deeply unwise. Being a councilmember, particularly in Houston, is about how one conducts themselves around the horseshoe and around the community. Constituent services are important, no doubt, but what makes or brakes inclusion, in our opinion, are leadership skills and consensus-building abilities.

Additionally, we placed considerable attention on the ability of the individual councilmembers to be unique and independent representatives. Given the strong-mayor system of Houston, this means how much the individuals were able to distinguish themselves from the agenda-setting priorities of Mayor Annise Parker.

Last year, we had nothing but adulation for Parker and her policy goals, whereas this year our opinion has been more mixed. Our reasoning is twofold. First, the composition of this editorial board has been truncated, with an effect of making our overall opinion nominally more conversation. However, we believe the main reason for the departure is that Parker opted to, instead of focus on a plethora of piecemeal accomplishments, pass two major pieces of legislation: a non-discrimination ordinance and an overhaul of vehicle-for-hire laws. We agreed with her on the former and disagreed on the latter, though we had serious reservations with the roll-out on both.

But some of Parker’s other accomplishments were marked with what we deemed to be executive overreach. Perhaps the best example of this was the unilateral decision to allow food trucks downtown, rescinding a dully-passed ordinance in the process. We agree with her on the underlying issue, but found the methods troublesome.

Some of the mayoral candidates for this year’s election, namely former Congressman Chris Bell, has suggested allowing councilmembers to introduce agenda items. We think this is a good idea, and thus have valued councilmembers who we believe would effectively participate in the legislative process.

Finally, we determined that the practice of deriding the “Worst” members of the council was unproductive. Given the small and non-partisan nature of the council, there is little parallel to State Legislature in that way.

Without further ado, we present our list:

THE BEST

MIKE LASTER: IT’S HIS WORLD, WE JUST ALL LIVE IN IT

https://i2.wp.com/www.outsmartmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/MikeLasterWithNametag.jpg

City Hall runs on a two-party system. No, not Democrats and Republicans. As any even cursory observer of municipal politics could explain, the system is official non-partisan. Most informed voters could tell you how the candidates fall one way or another, and super-partisans probably care about that type of stuff, but it just is not that important on Bagby street and around the horseshoe. The two parties at City Hall, much like a high school cafeteria, are the in-crowd and the outcasts. You can be on the mayor’s good side or not, and rarely is there a middle ground. The closest thing to one is Councilmember Mike Laster, the Democrat from District J (Sharpstown).

Early this past summer, Laster stood close with Parker as one of the council’s key proponents of the contentious non-discrimination ordinance, sometimes known as the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO). Be it the press conferences, the never-ending public sessions or the at-times heated debates, Laster was a dependable and steadfast supporter of LGBT rights as well as the plethora of other demographics protected by this good-senses ordinance.

However, unlike some others, Laster was always a pragmatic and respectful voice on this issue. This board believes that the principle of equality for all is indisputable, but that does not mean that legislation ensuring that right must be beyond the horse-trading and moderation of municipal politics. Laster understood this principle well. If and when the NDO fight transforms into a municipal referendum, its survival depends on voices like his to not lose track of the big picture.

But Laster is not just a pragmatic voice in the majority, he can sometimes be an effective member of the loyal opposition. This was seen best during the summer-long fight on vehicle-for-hire ordinance, specifically seeking changes to accommodate Uber and Lyft into the market. Laster, representing an outer-loop middle class neighborhood, did not get caught up in the gleefest over the new yuppie infatuation. Instead, he calmly looked at how changes would affect his constituents, his city and his values. When he determined — rightly so — that the inequities in the system proposed were unfair, he audaciously fought against its implementation.

One may think that, allied with so many of his opponents from the NDO fight, this would have made for strange bedfellows. But Laster is not a tribal politician who holds grudges, especially not at city hall. Always one for integrity, he transcended the “parties” at city hall and assumed his new role capably.

C.O. BRADFORD: THE SMARTEST GUY IN THE ROOM

Politics all too often is about obfuscation, confusion and misdirection. Officeholders love using doublespeak, code words and other silly tricks to avoid telling the truth or to conceal their agendas. Unfortunately, that mindset — typically associated with the dysfunction of Washington — is present within local political structures as well. Thankfully, Councilmember C.O. Bradford, a Democrat from the fourth At-Large position, is one of the dependable voices of reason in the room, to not only cut through the fluff but possessing arguably the best command of the rules of procedure around the horseshoe.

This was perhaps best noticed during the aforementioned vehicle-for-hire debates. Every time Bradford was recognized to speak, he essentially took control of the situation, using his persuasive rhetoric and his encyclopedic knowledge of pertinent rules and procedures.

But, possibly most importantly, we have been in awe of Bradford’s conduct in regard to the aforementioned NDO. Firmly a member of the anti-Parker team, he played devil’s advocate at every turn, examining a roll-out that was at times sloppy and without focus. In the past few months, as opponents have attempted to place a referendum on the ordinance on the ballot, Bradford has been reasonable in his comments. However, on the most important underlying point, Bradford has never, ever wavered from a bedrock belief supportive of LGBT rights.

For one member of this board, the decision to include Bradford was particularly easy. Early last year, the council approved an overhaul of ordinances on stray dogs, and Bradford voted incorrectly in our opinion. Reaching Bradford for comment, he passionately, articulately and demonstrably defended his position in a way that not only made his views understandable but reinforced our positive impressions of municipal politics.

DAVE MARTIN: SPEAKING TRUTH TO POWER

The Houston City Council, like any governmental body, does its fair share of silly stuff, so every one in a while someone has to come along and scream that the Emperor has no clothes, so to speak. That person, on Bagby Street, is usually Councilmember Dave Martin, the Republican from District E (Kingwood).

Undoubtedly the best example of this asinine mindset was on the final day of deliberations on the vehicle-for-hire overhaul. The lobbyists for Uber and Lyft had convinced the council to allow their taxi companies slide by the regulators under a different category than Yellow Cab, Lone Star Cab and others, thus prompting vastly different regulations for each category despite the fact that the services provided the exact same service. This board split on the underlying principle of reforming taxi laws, but we unanimously agreed that two different systems for the same service was exceedingly dumb. Most egregiously, the proposals allowed for the so-called “TNCs” like Uber and Lyft to charge whatever they wanted while the other taxis would have their fares completely locked in by city hall.

We asked a lot of people to explain this at the time, and no one could. All we got were ad hominems and sanctimonious dribble. Evidently, Martin had some trouble understanding the proposal’s value too. After it became apparent that the proposal would pass, Martin worked quickly to submit a handwritten amendment — later approved — that allowed all taxis to charge variable rates. Whatever your opinion on taxi laws, you should at least agree that equity should be present within the regulatory scheme. Martin eventually abstained on the underlying ordinance — poignantly reminiscent of our own indecision —  but his noble dedication to even-handedness was not unnoticed.

That is the best anecdote to illustrate the quintessence of Martin’s time around the horseshoe. Always prepared, always willing to speak truth to power and always a bunch of fun to watch in action. And lest you think Martin is a show-horse, to borrow the colloquialisms used in councilmembers’ mailers, his commitment to constituent services is one of the strongest at city hall.

Martin’s district, with Kingwood on one end and Clear Lake on the other, faces unparalleled challenges in many ways. The geographic diversity, for one, is daunting. But Martin — as well as his ever-talented staff — have worked well to respond to the district’s unique needs.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

ROBERT GALLEGOS: ROOKIE OF THE YEAR

Freshman on the city council often have quite an uphill climb to prove themselves in their first year in office. Proving as the exception to the rule, Councilmember Robert Gallegos, a Democrat from District I (East End), has done exactly. From his staff picks, which included young rising stars and former rivals, to his attention to detail at council meetings, Gallegos has proven himself as a positive addition to the council.

He has been a dependable ally of the mayor, by and large, but Gallegos has also begun setting himself apart. On the NDO, which originally only applied to employers with at least 50 employees, Gallegos spearheaded the amendment that lowered the threshold to 15, drawing the ire of the Greater Houston Partnership in the process. On vehicles for hire, he broke with the administration to champion 24/7 commercial insurance for all taxis, a priority of ours. All in all, look for Gallegos to be going places in the next few years.

RICHARD NGUYEN: PROFILE IN COURAGE

When Councilmember Richard Nguyen, hailing from District F (Little Saigon), defeated the two-term incumbent in 2013, few expected a very newsworthy representative. Little was known about him, but when he interviewed with us during the campaign (one of his few public comments), he disclosed his affiliation was a registered Republican because he believed “strongly in the United States Constitutions [sic].” Needless to say, he was not considered a very likely vote for an ordinance extending non-discrimination to LGBT people.

But Nguyen surprised us. In a heartfelt moment, Nguyen described his emotional journey in coming to a decision to support the NDO, in part because of his responsibility to be a good father to his young daughter. Later, Nguyen — becoming more and more affiliated with Parker — took a further step and officially became a member of the Democratic Party.

No doubt, he will be challenged this year for that brave stand. And while the other details of Nguyen’s first year in office haven’t been extraordinary, that special moment alone was. A courageous act for a courageous representative that his district should be proud of.

THE BULL OF THE BAGBY

MICHAEL KUBOSH: THE PEOPLE ARE THE CITY

Councilmember Michael Kubosh, the Republican representing the third At-Large position, has two main principles as an officeholder that guide how he votes. First, follow the law. Second, follow the people. A successful bail bondsman by trade, he possesses an erudite legal knowledge that could put many attorneys to shame.

This first principle was exemplified best during the vehicle-for-hire debates. New entrants, such as Uber and Lyft, began operating illegally months before the actual council debate. The rogue operators openly flaunted the law of the land, then absurdly asked for a more agreeable set of laws (that they would then supposedly follow). Kubosh would have none of this. In every public session on this issue, he made a point of reminding all who would listen that the new taxis were operating illegally. It is not a very hard principle to grasp, but it appeared lost on most of his contemporaries. In the council meetings following Uber and Lyft’s respective legalization, Kubosh has not lost sight of this pesky fact. Week after week, he inquires as to the adjudication of citations issued to Uber and Lyft drivers while they were operating illegally.

But the second principle is the more fascinating one. Kubosh could be described as a populist, in that he values direct democracy above most else. He first got well known in municipal politics in 2010 after he organized opposition to Red Light Cameras, and successfully spearheaded a referendum against their use. When the council passed asinine restrictions on feeding the homeless in 2012, Kubosh also became a leader in the push the see a referendum on that issue. And now, with the NDO, Kubosh is hoping for the people to voice their opinions on that issue.

This board is not a big fan of voting on civil rights. We disagreed with his vote against the NDO, but his reasoning is consistent and admirable nonetheless. In a day and age where our politics is dominated by ideologues, Kubosh is quite literally the furthest thing from it.

He listens to the people, whatever they say. In the age old dispute of “Delegate” versus “Trustee” systems of representatives, first formulated by Edmund Burke, Kubosh has firmly taken to the latter option. He’s bold, he’s unpredictable and he’s fearless. And while he certainly hasn’t made a friend of Parker, he’s earned our respect.

Now, the rumor is that Kubosh could challenge Congressman John Culberson, a Republican from the 7th district. We’d love to see him in congress, but city hall would certainly lose out.

The Texpatriate Editorial Board is comprised of George Bailey of Boston, Noah M. Horwitz of Austin and Andrew Scott Romo of New Orleans. Editorials represent a majority opinion of the voting board.

Texpatriate’s Person of the Year 2014

If one were to scour the bars of downtown Austin last year, 2014’s election would have sounded like the big one, the year when Texas Democrats would show they were truly a force to be reckoned with. At the very least, the year they continue what had been incremental progress toward competitiveness. Of course, that did not happen, as the Democratic gubernatorial nominee lost by more than any of her predecessors in this century.

But to characterize this year merely as one of Democratic failure would be a gross oversimplification, and would ignore the impressive independent successes of Republican campaigns this year. Long chastised as technologically backwater, Republicans closed the digital gaps all around the country, but especially so within Texas. Governor-elect Greg Abbott’s campaign in particular functioned as a well-oiled machine. Lamented by many as politically untested, Abbott was cautious and — for the most part — outwardly reasonable on the campaign trail (despite whatever far-right position he espoused away from television cameras).

However, caution did not permeate the entire ticket. Specifically, Lieutenant Governor-elect Dan Patrick appeared content to continue the ultra-conservative, divisive rhetoric he used to win the Republican primary, reiterating it without shame throughout the general election. In the end, he only won by marginally less than Abbott, despite such a very different strategy. Patrick, more than anyone else, embodies the current realities of Texas politics; the state is controlled, with an iron fist, by the few percent that bother to vote in Republican primaries. And Patrick echoes their voice louder and with more certainty than any of his colleagues.

Historically, lieutenant governor has been the most powerful position in the state, even more than the governor. The roles have only been reversed for the best decade or so because of a uniquely audacious governor and a strangely milquetoast lieutenant governor. But Patrick, previously a State Senator with no adversity to controversy, does not have a single timid bone in his body.

Since being elected, Patrick has exhibited no signs of slowing down his charge to change the state. He has already begun holding hearings on education matters, and a radical restructuring of the system — likely involving the extensive use of charter schools and vouchers — looks slated for the next session. With Patrick holding almost despotic power over the upper chamber, his word will carry more weight than just about anyone else.

As an editorial board, we aren’t much for Patrick’s extreme political positions. Be it education reform, guns, immigration reform or environmental factors, we disagree with him quite strongly and repudiate many, if not most, of his tactics. Throughout both his lengthy primary campaign against incumbent David Dewhurst as well as Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson & Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples and general election campaign, Patrick demonstrated a working unfamiliarity with telling the truth, which earned him the honorific of “pathological liar” from one such opponent (Patterson). We endorsed his Democratic rival for lieutenant governor earlier this year in about the strongest way we knew how civilly.

But one would have to be delusional to deny the huge impact that Patrick already has, and will continue to have, on Texas politics. His defeat of Dewhurst, simultaneous with similar primary battles for Attorney General and Agriculture Commissioner, signaled a transition for control of the Texas Republican Party (and, in effect, the State of Texas). Make no mistake, the Tea Party is not a faction within the party, there are the party; and Patrick is their prince.

In the next session of the legislature, Abbott may very well play it safe and push a rather non-controversial agenda from a technocratic point of view. But no one expects Patrick to do the same. If/when the legislature passes big measures such as so-called “School Choice,” “Open Carry,” “Campus Carry,” and the end of concepts castigated as “Sanctuary Cities” or the “Texas DREAM Act,” we will have Patrick to thank/curse for it. He will quickly and hugely make his mark on Texas.

Accordingly, we denote Dan Patrick as our Texpatriate 2014 Person of the Year. Previous recipients include ANNISE PARKER (2013), LANE LEWIS (2012), ANDREW BURKS (2011), THE HOUSTON MUNICIPAL EMPLOYEE (2010) and ANNISE PARKER (2009). Criteria for recipients has changed over the years.

The Texpatriate Editorial Board is comprised of George Bailey of Boston, Noah M. Horwitz of Austin and Andrew Scott Romo of New Orleans. Editorials comprise a majority opinion of the board.

Texpatriate endorses for Governor

Governor Rick Perry, the longest serving chief executive in Texas’ history (by far), will finally leave office next January. A whole lot has happened in the fourteen years since Texas had a different Governor. To put it in perspective, the members of this board were roughly in the 1st Grade when Perry assumed office.

Though such an assertion might be unpopular given our state’s booming economy, we think that Perry has been a poor governor. He wasn’t responsible for putting the shale in the ground, nor was he behind George Mitchell’s innovations in efficiently extracting it. And, despite what his straw-man arguments may have you believe, his support of this energy boom did not put him in a unique place compared to Democrats. While Texas’ economy has boomed under Perry, it has mostly been unrelated to his sloppy tenure.

That tenure has been filled with corruption, cronyism and ineptitude of the highest magnitude. Now, Attorney General Greg Abbott, the Republican candidate for Governor, looks likely to continue along that same misguided path. Recent headlines have shown Abbott was either complicit in the sloppy administration of the Texas Enterprise Fund, which allotted grants to friends of the Governor without any formal application, or was totally checked out of his job as an ostensible watchdog for the state.

Most importantly, Abbott looks like he will not only continue but expand Perry’s rotten legacy of mollifying the Tea Party above actually solving the state’s problem. We have crumbling highways, but Abbott appears complacent with maintaining the ludicrously low gas tax. Our schools are failing, but Abbott is perfectly content with the deleterious effects of 2011 cuts he repeatedly defended.

On a plethora of other issues, Abbott espouses rhetoric that, generously, belongs in the 20th century. He opposes a statewide ban on texting-while-driving, supports the evisceration of the Voting Rights Act and opposes abortions even in cases of rape and incest. He supports the terrible idea of allowing college students to bring their concealed handguns on campus. We could go on like this for a few hundred more words, but we digress.

For Abbott and others, the legacy of Lyndon Johnson and Bob Bullock is only a distant memory. Pragmatism and otherwise working together to reach consensus on the serious problems facing our state has almost become passe, compared to getting a soundbite in on Fox News or for the next Tea Party meeting. Abbott is no statesman, just another demagogue who will try his hardest to run Texas into the ground.

State Senator Wendy Davis (D-Tarrant County), the Democratic candidate, is not perfect either. She has run a rather mediocre campaign, with grandiose plans that lack specifics or funding targets. Some of the specific ideas, such as allowing the Top 20% of High School students to receive automatic acceptance to the state’s public universities if they pledge to major in education, are just comically terrible. Her commercials have been off-key and her debate performances abysmal. Sadly, in many situations, Davis has evidently developed a penchant for dancing around the truth. But no matter the roughness of her campaign, she is a significantly better choice than Abbott. Simply put, while our objections to Davis are based on her — or, quite likely, her campaign’s — incompetence, our objections to Abbott are based on his unmitigated malice. We find the former quality to be the lesser of the evils.

Davis cares more about helping Texans than necessarily implementing her ideology; Abbott is the opposite. Despite what some frustrating newspaper editorials from around the state may have insinuated, Davis would work well with Republicans if elected. She has done so on both the Texas Senate and in her previous position as a member of the Fort Worth City Council. To think that her respect and open-mindedness would  subside abruptly at this time is without any rationalization.

Like most of the other statewide choices this year, the race for Governor presents a fairly easy question. Only one candidate wants to protect women by ensuring health clinics that provide a wide variety of services stay open. Only one candidate recognizes LGBT people as worthy of dignity and respect. Only one candidate unequivocally would not defend a ban on interracial marriage (yes, we did not mis-type there). That candidate is Wendy Davis. And despite some serious concerns about her campaign and the depth of her platform, she is just the right choice over Abbott for Governor.

Accordingly, this board endorses Wendy Davis for Governor.

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 voting board.

Texpatriate endorses for Lieutenant Governor

 

The post of Lieutenant Governor, serving as the President of the Texas Senate, holds remarkable power over the state. Long thought to be the most powerful post in state government, even more than the Governor, its power has waned in the past dozen years as a result of both Governor Rick Perry centralizing power and Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst’s milquetoast leadership. Dewhurst, long a steward of bipartisan statesmanship, has tacked far to the right in recent years because of pressure from the Tea Party wing of his party. State Senator Dan Patrick (R-Harris County), who defeated Dewhurst to become the Republican candidate for this post, embodies this extreme wing frighteningly effectively. Divisive, grandstanding, rabble-rousing and without any core principles, Patrick embodies all the terrifying aspects of James “Pa” Ferguson, Huey Long and George Wallace rolled up into one.

He would make a poor Lieutenant Governor, not only because of his political ideology, but because of the very way he operates. Mean-spirited and a pathological liar, Patrick has a poor working relationship with many of even his Republican colleagues in the Senate. Observers opine that there is a possibility that the Senate may revolt against Patrick’s leadership, and strip away most of the Office of Lieutenant Governor’s duties. To do so would be a mistake; a statewide elected position to reign over the Senate is an effective guarantor that regional squabbles will not dominate the agenda. But that might just be what happens if Patrick is elected.

His big priority appears to be what he calls “border security;” in actuality, a dog-whistle for xenophobic rhetoric directed toward the Hispanic community. He wants to put up a big wall and, in the style of Mitt Romney, make life a living hell for the undocumented immigrants already here. To accomplish this goal, Patrick just makes stuff up. The allegation that immigrants carry “third-world diseases” such as leprosy cross our borders? Completely fabricated. Those commercials of his that contend ISIS terrorists are plotting to swim the Rio Grande? An outright lie. We think he might blame them for the Kennedy assassination soon too.

Patrick believes that abortions in all case should be disallowed, equates homosexuality with a mental disorder and supports the teaching of creationism in public schools. Most importantly, Patrick supports the abolition of the 2/3rds rule in the Texas Senate, which mandates that consensus must be reached before bringing a bill to the floor. Patrick, in a desperate attempt to mollify his Tea Party brethren, would seek to turn the chamber into a more dysfunctional mock-up of Washington DC.

No matter your politics, this board strongly urges you, as a matter of principle, to not vote for Dan Patrick. If you are otherwise conservative, please consider the Libertarian candidate, Robert Butler, or just undervote. But we think that the Democratic candidate, State Senator Leticia Van de Putte (D-Bexar County), is the exact type of pro-business and centrist Democrat who could attract support from across the aisle.

Van de Putte placates all the liberal causes by being supportive of gay marriage and opposed to onerous and unnecessary restrictions on abortion. But, more significantly, she is big on pro-business policies, be it simplifying the tax code, promoting a strong public school system or keeping Texas friendly for immigrant labor. Van de Putte is obviously the pragmatic and sensible choice in this year’s election.

Some of Van de Putte’s policy proposals have been lacking in specifics, and she has taken actions — particularly when it came to aligning with the Democratic gubernatorial nominee — that we have disagreed therewith. But nobody is perfect and Van de Putte, at her core, is a very good politician who appears to legitimately care about her constituents.

Van de Putte wants to calmly, and with great restraint, address many of the problems facing Texans in coming years. Patrick wants to burn down the barn to deal with the roaches, so to speak, and he would be willing to do it five times over to appease his extremist base. We have talked time and time again about clear choices in this year’s general election (indeed, there are a plethora of lousy candidates), but this one might just be the most clear. It’s definitely the most important.

Accordingly, this board endorses Leticia Van de Putte for Lieutenant Governor. If, for whatever reason, you can’t bring yourself to support a Democrat, please consider voting third party or just undervote.

The Texpatriate Editorial Board is comprised of Noah M. Horwtiz & 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 voting board.

Texpatriate endorses for Civil District Courts

In our last but not least series of judicial endorsements, this board takes a took at Civil District Courts. Typically, these courts deal with disputes over large sums of money, but they also consider general cases regarding the constitutionality of state laws or action at the most local level. Once upon a time, they bustled with activity of individuals trying to seek justice against those who had wronged them. Sadly, since the advent of so-called tort reform, which we believe has mercilessly slammed the courthouse door shut on many, much activity in these courts has ground to a complete halt. Compared to these courts’ brethren across the street in the Criminal District Courts, which are always popping with filled dockets, the load over here is relatively light. It’s not unheard of to only have a few things all day. Our first recommendation, simply put, is to disband many of these courts for inactivity. But it’s not the Judge’s call, so we digress.

Looking at these benches, we need individuals who will be fair, knowledgeable and experienced. Those who will not be afraid of doing what is right, even if it is isn’t popular or helpful to re-election.

Additionally, we need to stipulate a general rule in our endorsement process that we broke repeatedly when coming to these decisions. Generally, we defer to incumbents unless a challenger can prove how they fail. We did not do that in this election, given not only the vast number of relatively new incumbents, but how many uniquely qualified challengers were running for benches. Many of the incumbents we did not endorse are still good Judges — who have definitively not failed at their jobs — nonetheless.

There are 11 Civil District Courts up for election this year. All of them are contested.

55th DISTRICT COURT
Our pick is Judge Jeff Shadwick, running for his second full term after getting elected in 2010. He previously served an appointee from 2007 to 2009. A Republican, he runs with courtroom with a pristine sense of fairness and equity nearly unheard of around the courthouse. Among the plethora of attorneys we contacted in our research for this race, Shadwick’s name repeatedly came up as a fair and just arbiter of the law. He is a good judge who should be rewarded by Harris County voters with another full term in office.

Kay Morgan, the Democratic candidate, is an equally well-qualified and well-tempered opponent. She would also make a good judge, but Shadwick already does his job remarkably well.

Accordingly, this board endorses Jeff Shadwick for the 55th District Court.

113th DISTRICT COURT
Judge Michael Landrum, a Republican appointee of Governor Rick Perry in 2013, has a short record a judge. Thus far, he’s done a pretty good job, but much remains to be seen. We think Harris county should go with the bird in the hand, and return Steven Kirkland to the bench instead.

Kirkland, a Democrat who served as a Civil District Court from 2009 to 2013 and has served as a Municipal Judge in the interim, ran a remarkably just and efficient courtroom throughout his years on the bench. Those who practiced in his court never had an ill-word to say. Most pressing for us, Kirkland even has a record of making rules that were right, even if they were not fair. One such ruling, a $13 Million judgment against prominent attorney George Fleming for gouging his clients, even cost him his job.

Fleming poured millions into an unqualified opponent to run against Kirkland in the Democratic primary in 2012 — as well as another in 2014 — who used homophobic and other caustic tactics in a despicable attempt to knock the noble Kirkland off of the bench. The strategy worked in 2012, but not in this year’s primary. Voters should correct this injustice, and return a great jurist to the bench.

Accordingly, this board endorses Steven Kirkland for the 113th District Court.

157th DISTRICT COURT
Judge Randy Wilson, a Republican who has served in office for three full terms, has in some respects forgot the true meaning of being an impartial adjudicator. In case after case, attorneys who practice in his court tell us that he favors big interests over smaller ones. Nothing against him personally, but that style of Judging just isn’t right for Harris County.

Jim Peacock, his Democratic opponent, is a well-respected civil litigator, who would better understand neutrality on the bench. Attorneys from across the political spectrum note his non-partisanship and objective approach to complicated disputes. He would make an all-around better judge.

Accordingly, this board endorses Jim Peacock for the 157th District Court.

189th DISTRICT COURT
Judge Bill Burke, a twelve year veteran on the court, is a fair and neutral jurist who treats all parties with respect while objectively considering their cases. An active Republican, he notoriously checks his politics at the door and fairly considers all the cases before his court.

Ursula Hall, a longtime Municipal Judge and the Democratic candidate for this bench, is indubitably well-qualified to be a fantastic Judge. Hall also is active in promoting fairness throughout the entire legal system, embodying progressive values in a way that is constructive but not detrimental to her impartiality as a judge. The choice between her and Burke is a tough one.

On the balance, we tend to think that if the court isn’t broken, don’t fix it, so we will stick it out with Burke. But we fully encourage our readers to consider if your priority is a progressive mindset on the bench rather than merely a well-tempered Judge. If that is the type of official you are looking for, Hall is your candidate.

Accordingly, this board endorses Bill Burke for the 189th District Court.

190th DISTRICT COURT
Judge Patricia Kerrigan often makes her courtroom a hostile place for plaintiffs small in size, sometimes playing irresponsible favorites for the corporation or insurance company. However, our misgivings with her do not end just at her service as a jurist.

Kerrigan has been on the bench since 2007, but she had a long career before that in private practice. The attorneys with whom we consulted with to reach these decisions all similarly lamented the cases they worked on involving Kerrigan, deriding her as dishonest in the practice in law. We have some serious concerns that this dishonesty may not have subsided following her transition to the judiciary.

The Democratic candidate, Farrah Martinez, is a well-qualified and tempered attorney. She would honestly and fairly uphold the law if elected. We strongly encourage Harris County to make that a reality.

Accordingly, this board endorses Farrah Martinez for the 190th District Court.

234th DISTRICT COURT
Judge Wesley Ward was first appointed to the bench by Perry in 2012. Much like Judge Landrum before him, we have nothing but nice things to say of Ward, but he is still largely untested as a jurist. In the limited circumstances we can judge so far, though, Ward has demonstrated himself as a force to be reckoned within the Civil Courts. If your priority is the efficient operation of the courts, and for competent judges to serve, Ward is your choice.

But we also like Barbara Gardner, the Democratic candidate. She brings up a few troubling points about the incumbent’s operation of the court, including resetting cases for trial a few too many times and possibly being too reluctant to adjudicate disputes. All in all, though, her strongest points are her long resume and experience as a civil litigator. Gardner makes good points about the courts in general being too anti-consumer, which we absolutely agree with her about. She also points to the surplus of experience she has compared to her competitor. Thus, we think she would be the superior Judge.

Accordingly, we endorse Barbara Gardner for the 234th District Court.

269th DISTRICT COURT
Judge Dan Hinde is arguably known as the most intellectual of any Civil District Judge in Harris County. However, what he possesses in brainpower, he evidently lacks in certain judicial ethics. A few years back, Hinde got in trouble for improperly finding the addresses of candidates in the jury pools, then sending campaign materials to their homes. A columnist at the Houston Chronicle opined that he may have committed a felony. Many around the city may have forgotten, but we surely remember. Hinde, a Republican, also has a reputation, like many other Judges, to improperly favor big defendants over little plaintiffs.

George Arnold, a Democrat, would be a fairer and more ethical judge. With more than two decades of the practice of civil law under his belt, he would be able to capably interpret the law and fulfill his judicial activities. He fully expect him to be a fairer adjudicator, as well one who will not abuse his office for political purposes.

Accordingly, this board endorses George Arnold for the 269th District Court.

270th DISTRICT COURT
Judge Brent Gamble, who has served four terms in office, is ready to retire. A Republican, he regularly rules against the little guy and is just not a good jurist for the people of Harris County.

The Democrat, James Hippard Jr, should sound familiar to every lawyer in Houston. His father, James Hippard Sr, was a hero in the local integration movement and a venerated Professor at the University of Houston School of Law. Like his father, Hippard strives to fight for the everyday Texan throughout his practice of law. Seeking deference for neither rich or poor, Hippard would be a fair and noble Judge if elected. With many decades of experience as both an attorney and law professor, he would also be ready to hit the ground running on day one.

Accordingly, this board endorses James Hippard Jr. for the 270th District Court.

281st DISTRICT COURT
Judge Sylvia Matthews, a Republican who has served for six years, is an adequate Judge. But her Democratic opponent, Tanner Garth, would likely be an even better Judge. With decades of experience, Garth would be both just as qualified as the incumbent but compassionate and open-minded in ways she just would not.

A business-litigator by trade, Matthews has a history of representing the big entities looking to clamp down on activity at the courthouse. A personal injury trial lawyer, Garth seeks the opposite. He has a history of helping people who have been wronged by seeking out justice for those who have been wronged. It is a noble background, one Harris County could simply use more thereof.

Accordingly, this board endorses Tanner Garth for the 281st District Court.

295th DISTRICT COURT
Judge Caroline Baker has a passable record on the bench. On the bench for about six years, she has developed the same reputation for arguably being a little preferential to bigger business interests. Harris County definitely has a good judge with Baker, a Republican, but they could have a great judge if they selected her Democratic opponent, Latosha Lewis.

An environmental lawyer by trade, Lewis has direct experience in litigating torts for those who have been wronged by malice or negligence. She understands that these cases are about more than just numbers and statistics; they are about people. Recognized by Texas Monthly as one of the top lawyers in the State every year for the past seven years, she would — without a doubt — be a fantastic addition to the courts.

Accordingly, this board endorses Latosha Lewis for the 295th District Court.

334th DISTRICT COURT
We find both the Republican incumbent, Grant Dorfman, and the Democratic opponent, Daryl Morre, to be rather well qualified and well versed contenders. Our preference of one over the other one is somewhat hard, as they are both good options. Ultimately, we think that Moore, a plaintiff’s attorney and son of a prominent labor activities, would be the better choice. We recommend a vote for Moore.

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 voting board.

Texpatriate endorses for Attorney General

This should be a long and intellectual editorial about the political history of the Attorney General’s office, about the nuanced policy disagreements between the major candidates and the different criteria one should use before making a decision on whom to support for the state’s top lawyer. But this decision is just not complex enough to warrant all that. One candidate is an admitted crook, and should stay far away from high office.

State Senator Ken Paxton (R-Collin County) has admitted to engaging in securities fraud, a felony in Texas, when he solicited clients to a capital management firm without properly registering himself, despite being paid to do so. He has been officially reprimanded and fined by the State Securities Board. The Public Integrity Unit of the Travis County District Attorney’s office has even initiated an investigation against Paxton, though any indictments that might be issued would not occur until after the November election.

Now, if Paxton wins the election but still gets disbarred for his unethical behavior and just shoddy lawyering, he would still be able to continue on in office (our state’s founding fathers, in their grand wisdom, decided you don’t have to be an Attorney to be Attorney General). But if convicted of a felony, he would be removed from office. This is not that small of a possibility.

In our opinion, Paxton is already a confessed crook. Someone like him is either too nefarious or too mindless to follow the law; either way, he should not be rewarded with the privilege to help enforce it. And Texas should not have to relive the excitement of the 1980s when it comes to dealing with public officials who have been found guilty of felonies.

The Democratic candidate, Sam Houston, has a great deal of problems himself that make us think perhaps he is also not ready for prime time. But being camera shy and perplexed on some more complicated issues is a far cry from a felonious crime-spree.

Houston specifically has a rather unclear stance on what criteria the Attorney General should use when determining to defend a state law or not. We don’t know exactly what he believes, and this ambiguity troubles us to some extent. However, we do agree with Houston on many of the underlying principles, such as personal opposition to Texas’ strict anti-abortion laws and homophobic constitutional amendments.

In our view, the second-most obvious difference between Houston and Paxton is their legal experience. Paxton is a second-rate lawyer who has been propped up merely by his skills in Tea Party rabble rousing. Sam Houston, on the other hand, is a well-respected attorney in the City of Houston area, focusing on litigation as a named partner in a major firm.

Though most of all, Houston is willing to approach the issues of the Attorney General with an open mind. This stands in contrast to Paxton’s small and petty ideological approach, which results in the exact type of hubris that can lead to the aforementioned hubris.

What type of laughing stock will Texas be when it has the only Attorney General in the country who is no longer an attorney? We’re not sure what the punch-line would be, and we don’t care to find out by electing Paxton.

Accordingly, this board endorses Sam Houston for Attorney General.

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 voting board.