We got our first look at the campaign fundraising prowess of the two major candidates, Mayor Annise Parker and challenger Ben Hall, in July. Mayor Parker had a typically solid report, with over $2 million raised. Hall put out a press release touting his number, which turned out to be a bit of misdirection since he actually had two reports, a regular one and an S-PAC one, and used that dichotomy to claim he'd only lent his campaign $150,000 when the real total was more like $1.7 million. A closer look at their reports showed that Hall spent a lot of money on a lot of things, a few of which were curious. That included a social media outreach plan that didn't work as intended. Hall also made some personnel changes, swapping out one set of Republican consultants for another.
The change in staff at Team Hall has led to some more aggressive campaigning, and a few days ago they started a squabble over the number and nature of Mayoral debates, which remains unsettled at this time. Hall and Parker actually met at a candidate forum on Saturday, which apparently didn't count as a debate. Don't ask me, I don't understand it either.
Both campaigns are now on the air, or at least they were as of last week. Hall ran a mostly introductory ad that was reasonably well-received. The Parker campaign fired right back with an ad that refuted Hall's charges about her alleged lack of future vision by pointing out that Hall has only recently moved into Houston after living in a pricey suburb for over a decade. I admit my bias here as a Parker supporter, but this is the kind of charge that resonates with me. I like my city candidates to have had some skin in the game for a bit longer than it took them to form an exploratory committee.
Not much to report here. Both candidates had mostly boring finance reports. Incumbent Controller Ronald Green, who answered a few blogger questions here, has collected the endorsements you'd expect him to collect. Neither campaign has generated much news in recent weeks.
Council At Large
Still three unopposed incumbents, CMs Costello, Bradford, and Christie. All three had strong finance reports. CM Andrew Burks is being challenged by David Robinson, who was one of Burks' many opponents for that open seat in 2011. Robinson outraised Burks and is taking some endorsements from him. This one could well go to a runoff, as there are two little known candidates in the race as well. The large field for the one open seat in At Large #3 is reportedly narrowing down, as Chris Carmona and Al Edwards are both rumored to be dropping out. There's no clear favorite among the Democratic contenders for this seat, as Jenifer Pool, Rogene Calvert, and Roland Chavez have all collected at least one endorsement from the major Dem groups. It remains the case that any of the top five - those three plus Michael Kubosh and Roy Morales - could survive the cut in the first round of voting.
City Council district races
Much jockeying in District A, where CM Helena Brown, former incumbent Brenda Stardig, and first time candidate Mike Knox all reported strong finance numbers. Challenger Amy Peck, a 2009 contender for that open seat, has a fundraiser scheduled at which her boss, Sen. Dan Patrick, is the featured guest, so don't count her out in the money race, either. Not unexpectedly, the Dem groups are not endorsing in this contest, so at this time I don't have a feel for who might have an edge in that. I can't wait to see who the Chronicle endorses.
District B incumbent Jerry Davis had a solid report, but will have his hands full fending off challenger Kathy Daniels, who also ran in 2011. Daniels has received some endorsements already, and has the family of former CM Carole Mims Galloway behind her. Davis has the advantage of being a good Council member, and the disadvantage of being seen as an outsider in the district, at least by some.
Districts D and I are wide open. Dwayne Boykins had a huge report, raking in an incredible $150K. Still, Assata Richards and Georgia Provost both raised a few bucks, and Richards is doing well in endorsements. A typically anonymous person has been sending out emails attacking Boykins for having a history of making donations to Republicans as well as Democrats, and for voting in the 2010 GOP primary. As this is a heavily Democratic district, that's an attack to be taken seriously. D has seven candidates and counting, and may wind up the biggest field in the fall. The filing deadline is next Monday, so we'll know for sure then. District I has no clear standouts in fundraising, and the Dem endorsements are being spread around among the three Dem candidates. You can make a case for any two of the four to make it to the runoff.
HISD and HCC
Rumors are flying around that scandal-plagued long-time HISD Trustee Lawrence Marshall will not run for re-election. It remains fuzzy at this time who would run to succeed him if he does step down. New candidates on the scene include former teacher Anne Sung, running against incumbent Harvin Moore in one of the more wealthy districts; former principal Adriana Tamez, who is running in HCC District 3 against Herlinda Garcia, who was appointed to replace State Rep. Mary Ann Perez after her election to the Lege in 2012; and Phil Kunetka, running in District 5 against Leila Feldman, who was appointed to replace Richard Schechter after he stepped down. Both Sung and Tamez received the Democracy for Houston endorsement; HISD incumbent Anna Eastman (who has an opponent for re-election) and labor activist Zeph Capo (running against an ethically-challenged incumbent in HCC) collected the same endorsement plus the GLBT Political Caucus endorsement as well.
The most interesting races in Harris County may well be the ones with no candidates. Atop that list is an effort by a group of early childhood education advocates to put a measure on the Harris County ballot that would add a penny to local property taxes to fund a universal pre-kindergarten program. The petition process takes advantage of an obscure law that depends on the fact that Harris is one of two counties left in Texas that has a separate Board of Education. Plenty of petitions have been submitted to force the election, but questions about the legality of the process remain, and County Judge Ed Emmett is awaiting an opinion from AG Greg Abbott before proceeding. In addition, even more questions remain about how the tax funds would be managed and what oversight would exist. I have a series of posts that cover all this, so go check those out. The deadline for putting an item on the ballot is August 26, so expect some word from the AG by the end of the week, and don't be surprised if a lawsuit follows. No matter what else happens, we can say with confidence that we have never seen anything quite like this.
Also on the ballot is a referendum to determine the fate of the Astrodome. Many ideas were submitted by the public, but in the end the idea that was incorporated into the ballot item was a familiar one, borrowing from past ideas to turn the Dome into a multi-use facility that can be further adapted in the future if a private entity comes along to take it over. This too would require a property tax increase, and if the measure fails the Dome is likely to be demolished. While there are no PACs engaged on this yet, I feel confident it will be statewide, if not national, news by the time we go to the ballot box.
One last item is a jail bond referendum. Unlike a 2007 referendum that failed, this one will not expand the capacity of the Harris County Jail, and will allow the city of Houston to go forward with plans to close its jails. As such, unlike the 2007 referendum, I plan to vote for it.
And there's your pre-Filing Deadline Day report from Houston. Let me know if you have any questions.