2014 Texas Political Battle

2014 – A Very Political Year

Ponderings is back for a very exciting and politically intriguing 2014.  Of course, we have upcoming statewide elections for U.S. Senator, Governor, Lt. Governor and many other offices.   The new Houston City Council is being sworn in today with 6 new Members that will change the politics of that entity.

Statewide Elections promise to be very exciting beginning with the primaries on March 4.   The Republican primaries are clearly far more interesting than the Democratic races.  However, the Democrats have some hotly contested races as well as 5 people seeking the privilege of opposing incumbent U.S. Senator John Cornyn.  He also faces a primary challenge from Congressman Steve Stockman in his own primary.    I would say it is a safe bet that Cornyn returns to D.C. but most pundits never predicted Ted Cruz so I will just wait and watch this one.

Beyond the primaries, the race for Governor should provide solid entertainment throughout the year as well as the race for Lt. Governor.  It is a fairly safe bet that Wendy Davis and Greg Abbott will be facing off for Governor and Leticia Van de Putte will be the Democratic nominee for Lt. Governor.  In fact, the Republican primary for Lt. Governor may be the most fascinating Republican primary race.  We’ll be looking at it more closely as the year progresses.

Meanwhile, local government will continue to churn.  6 new Council Members will bring their own thoughts and perspectives to the discussions of city government and no doubt spark new approaches to debates at the Council table.  Mayor Parker enters the year stronger than ever and should be able to successfully push through many of her goals for her final term.

She has decided to put some of her energy into changing term limits.  We’ve written extensively about term limits over the last few years and will follow this debate closely.  Parker has signed on to a push led by Council Member Bradford to seek to change the limits rather than abolish them.  It will be an interesting discussion.

2014 may also be the year we learn the fate of the Houston Astrodome, our iconic facility that pulls at our heart strings but serves no purpose at the moment.  Harris County Commissioners Court will make the decision of what happens to the structure.

We’ll ponder all the politics and a little of life along the way.

Thanks to all my loyal readers and Happy New Year!




State Comptroller

State Comptroller Hustle – Where are the Women?

CombsThis week, Susan Combs, State Comptroller, announced she will not seek re-election to the post and will not seek any other office.  She is done.

This immediately set off a flurry of activity among potential Republican candidates.  Some announced immediately, like Senator Glenn Hegar.  Others are considering running, including the inimitable Tom Craddick, former Speaker of the Texas House and one of its longest serving members. Other names bandied about include Senator Tommy Williams and Rep. Harvey Hildebran.  Former Tea Party candidate for Governor, Debra Medina, has also announced her commitment to run.  This blogger hasn’t seen any indication of Democrats announcing for the office, only Republicans.

Susan Combs has had a long career in Texas Politics and Texans have liked having a woman as Comptroller.  For the last several years, she has been the only female among the 6 single office state wide elected officials.  There is a woman on the Texas Railroad Commission and a few women among the state wide judicial offices.  However, there is no question that among state offices, Combs has been the ranking female.

I teach Women in Politics at the University of Houston.  As a part of my ongoing research for that ever-changing course, I study women elected officials across the U.S. and beyond.  Americans truly like to put women in charge of money.  Two-thirds of elected budget positions in the U.S. are held by females.  Studies indicate that voters “trust” women more to manage money.

In Texas, we once had a State Treasurer.  This position launched Ann Richards and Kay Bailey Hutchison to higher offices.  Both of them held the position prior to being elected Governor and U.S. Senator.   Another woman, Martha Whitehead, took over the office.  The office was abolished in 1995 by Texas voters.

In 1998, Carole Keeton Rylander Strayhorn, was elected State Comptroller and a female has held the office since then.  Strayhorn served from 1998 through 2006 when she ran for Governor.  Combs was elected to the open position in 2006.

Yet, among the candidate names we hear being bandied, there is only one female – Debra Medina.  She will run as an outsider.  Will the party apparatus get behind her?

And where is the pipeline for women candidates?  With the retirement of Hutchison as U.S. Senator and the retirement of Combs,  female officeholders in Texas are dwindling rapidly.

If the Democrats were smart, they ought to find a strong female candidate with budget experience and run her for State Comptroller.  They don’t really have much of a chance in a statewide election but a strong female would be better than most.

Thanks to Susan Combs for carrying the torch statewide.




The GOP and George P….

The Republican Party has been evaluating their message and overall approach since they lost the general election for President in 2012.  Republicans went into that election with high expectations that they could defeat the incumbent and secure the White House.  Most pundits agreed.  At that time, President Obama’s ratings were higher in negatives than positives.

At the end of the year, President Obama resoundingly won re-election and the Republicans lost swing states that were expected to swing their way.  Was it Mitt Romney?  Not really.   It was more the message of the GOP and loose-cannon candidates that made outrageous comments that sounded early last century along the campaign trail.

In their post-election analysis, they have learned a few things and announced recently that they plan to spend $10,000,000 on outreach to minority communities.  Though in America, using the term “minority” is becoming more of a reference than a fact.  They plan to put people in these “communities” and have them become a part of the “community”.  Hey Latinos, Asians and African-Americans – the GOP is hiring!

Meanwhile, they are desperately seeking candidates that will reflect their new messaging and outreach.  What better person than a Latino named Bush?  It really doesn’t get any better than that.  At one time referred to as “the little Brown ones” by their Grandfather George H.W. Bush when speaking of Jeb Bush’s children, they are grown up now.

George P. Bush is the grandson and nephew of two Presidents and the son of a former Governor married to a Latina.  He has announced his intention to seek the office of Texas Land Commissioner.  George P. is an attorney and has been actively recruiting Latinos to the GOP.   Texas Republicans are thrilled, of course, as it will put a Bush back on the ballot in 2014.

How will all of this help the GOP in 2016?  We’ll wait, watch and analyze.


senator garcia

Senate 6 Solved

The voters of Senate 6 have spoken.

After a grueling election that spurred extreme negative politics, they came out in greater numbers than anticipated to make their choice.

The good news is that more than 18,000 voters cast ballots.  In the first round, only about 15,000 people participated.  While it is not a record turnout, these are good numbers for a spring election.

And the race was not as close as expected.  Garcia won victory with a strong 53% of the vote.

Carol Alvarado remains in her position as a State Representative and will continue to speak for many constituents in Senate District 6.

The challenge now will be for the community as a whole to put the negative campaign behind them.  Garcia and Alvarado were so closely aligned politically on the needs of the area that attacking each other became the differentiator in the race.

Austin players also became very important during this campaign.  Steve Mostyn, a Democratic trial lawyer,  and many unions backed Garcia.  Alvarado had support from the business community and from the Texans for Lawsuit Reform.  As a sitting State Representative, the business community in Austin knew that they would be working with her either way.

So, score one for the labor and trial lawyers in this race.

Congrats to the people of Senate District 6.  At least now you will have a Senator to speak for you in the critical final 3 months of the Session.

And, congrats to Senator Garcia!



Senate 6 Run-off Date

There is hope yet that the constituents of Senate District 6 may have some representation in Austin before the end of the Legislative Session.  The Governor FINALLY called the run-off election date for Saturday, March 2.

Meanwhile, Garcia and Alvarado have been slugging it out in the East End.  It seems that the broader public has drifted and is paying little attention to the campaign.  But these two are giving it their all as they reach out to keep voters motivated.

This run-off election will be all about turning out your voters.  The candidates know exactly who voted in the first round and they have to work to turn them back out again.  They are also likely working to interest new voters in the areas where they performed well in the first round.

As we mentioned previously, this run-off is about who can turn out the most voters.  TV ads, radio ads or an avalanche of direct mail will have little influence on the outcome.  The primary goal is to work day in and day out to turnout voters that they know support them.  It is likely to be close between these two.

If you live in Senate District 6, please pay close attention and cast your ballot wisely.  The winner of this race is likely to serve in the Texas Legislature for many years to come.

So pay attention and VOTE!




Immigrating the State of the State

Tuesday, January 29 was a big day in politics.  President Obama presented his plan for immigration changes that will primarily affect America’s Latino population.  Previously, a bi-partisan committee of U.S. Senators also presented a plan. While the details of the plans will be hotly debated over the next few months, it may be that immigration reform will be passed this year.

Meanwhile, Texas Governor Rick Perry laid out his State of the State speech before the Texas Legislature.  After 13 years of serving as Governor, he shared with us that he will “scrub the budget” and look for ways to refund taxes to Texans.  Personally, I found it fascinating that there is still more budget to be scrubbed.  Governor Perry has had 13 years to clean up the budget and the Legislature has been completely controlled by Republicans since 2002.  The budget ought to be fairly well scrubbed.

Meanwhile, he also suggested using a portion of the Rainy Day funds for the state’s water plan.  This is a truly critical policy issue for the State of Texas.  In the early 1990′s, then Lt. Governor Bullock told me that “Water, Nancy, it’s going to be all about water next century”.  And that has proven so very true.  Texas must address our complex water management issues.  Apparently, the still “in need of being scrubbed” budget, cannot find any additional funds for water management so they will use Rainy Day funds.  Doesn’t matter to me – just do something!

The Governor also mentioned infrastructure and charged the Legislature to fund improvements.  Thank goodness.  With all of Texas’ growth, our roads and infrastructure are not keeping up.  I hope they can scrub the budget and find more money to fund highways.

Perry  touched on education policy without going into too much detail on funding.  Most attributed this to the pending lawsuit against the state by a number of school districts.  It is expected that the Legislature may have to address funding in a Special Session after the court rules.  School-choice remains a hot topic for the Session as well as testing reforms.

Governor Perry, I do want some money back.  How about providing more education funding so my local property taxes decrease?  For all the budget “scrubbing” over the last few years, more costs have been passed to local governments.  This has caused significant local tax increases.  If the state could figure out how to help solve that problem, most Texans will benefit.  Hey, we don’t have a income tax in Texas but if you own property, you pay serious taxes.

Interestingly, the Governor did not address immigration reform.  He’s leaving that one to the feds but plenty of legislators have ideas, including how to separate Texas from federal “mandates”.

It’s going to be a fun year!



No Clarity in Senate 6

On Saturday, voters cast their ballots for a new Senator in District 6.  The heavily Latino district had an abysmally low turnout and provided little clarity for weary observers and constituents who lack representation.

There were 8 candidates that filed for the position and the Saturday election just allowed the two front-runners to confirm their standing.  Former County Commissioner Sylvia Garcia actually finished ahead of Alvarado by 600+ votes.

To analyze the election more deeply, Garcia was stronger in early vote.  As we expected with her organization support and endorsements, teams deployed effectively across the district and turned out voters for absentee and early vote.  On Election Day, Alvarado finished with a 33 vote lead over Garcia.

The Governor has not yet called a date for the Run-off election so the two women have to keep their voters motivated, their organizations strong and fundraising active.

The Run-off election will be a shear game of turnout.  The candidate that is best organized and best funded will win the election.  Towards the January 26th election date, Alvarado spent a burst of money on television advertising.   Paid media is often referred to as the “air war”.  “Air wars” are most effective when a large turnout is expected.  Garcia seems to have remained focused on the “ground war”, a well-organized effort to turn out her voters.  Garcia also ran ads and Alvarado had a ground war engaged.

For the run-off, the election will be all about the “ground war”.  The candidate that is able to turn out their voters will be the ultimate victor.  Garcia has a slight advantage with money at this point but both will be adequately funded.

A couple of things are certain for Senate 6 – EVERY VOTE COUNTS!  The next Senator from District 6 will be a female!

Weary politicos who were engaged in working, donating and/or just observing this race before the November elections will have no peace.   The fundraising window for City of Houston elections in November opens on Friday, February 1.  The letters requesting funds for 2013 and the invites to fundraisers are already printing………



Ponderings Potpourri

All hail Friday!  What a week it has been.  We started with the celebration of Martin Luther King’s birthday and the Inauguration of our President.

The President’s speech was a shout out to all those who helped re-elect him as he touched on emotional topics.  Interestingly, he didn’t speak much about guns but that is the issue that is swirling all around the nation.  The President and various bills introduced by U.S. Senators, called for by Mayors and filed in State Legislatures are single-handedly driving up the sales of guns and ammunition.  I find the whole thing humorous as people work themselves into a frenzy on both sides while the gun manufacturers ride the wave and make ever more money.

I do not believe that anyone in Texas is in danger of losing their right to bear arms.  Furthermore, we have bills introduced in Austin to allow you to carry your weapon openly, without concealment.  I think I prefer that actually.  At least I will know who to pick an argument with versus who not to.  Meanwhile, our Lt. Governor has called for providing teachers with arms training and arming them in the classrooms as well as beefing up school security.

And what about Hilary Clinton?  Her long awaited appearance to testify before Congress on Benghazi created a dramatic event worthy of Oscar-wining performances for her and several  Members of Congress.  I was only able to follow on Twitter initially and then headed to a TV set because of all I was seeing from reporters Tweeting.  Alas, when I hit the office’s panel of TVs, more of them were devoted to Beyonce and her possible lip-syncing at the Inauguration than were showing the hearings.  The bits I did see looked like pure entertainment, though.  Who needs reality shows when you can stuff like this?

Meanwhile, back home, the Senate District 6 election is this Saturday.  If you vote in that District, be sure and cast your ballot.  Carol Alvarado and Sylvia Garcia lead a field of 8 candidates.  Most observers anticipate a run-off between these two but who leads into the run-off and by how much may be a good indicator of an anticipated eventual outcome.

Hope you like the new look of Ponderings!  Let us know and we’re back in action now.



Senate 6 Endorsement Game

The field of candidates for the Special Election in Senate District 6 has rounded out to 8 people.  The most well-funded candidates remain former County Commissioner Sylvia Garcia and State Representative Carol Alvarado.

These two began campaigning as soon as it was appropriate to do so and both have television ads running on the air now.

In a Special Election of this nature, endorsements have a little more weight than they do in broader elections.  Endorsements can spur better organization, feet on the ground, and encouragement to get out and vote.

Garcia has strong support from the labor community with endorsements from most of the major union organizations, including HOPE, SEIU, Teachers, AFL-CIO and more.  She also has endorsements from City Council Members Jerry Davis and Ed Gonzalez.  Most interestingly, a number of Alvarado’s colleagues have endorsed Garcia, including Jessica Farrar, Ana Hernandez, Armando Walle, Garnet Coleman and Alma Allen.

Alvarado also has strong endorsements from well-established and well-financed organizations such as the Houston Police Officers Union,  Fire Fighters,  Houston Association of REALTORS and the Houston Apartment Association.  She has support from Council Member James Rodriguez,  State Senator Rodney Ellis, former Mayors Bill White and Lee Brown as well as State Representatives Senfronia Thompson and Harold Dutton.

Alvarado also has the endorsement of the Gallegos family and this may be her most important support.  The family is actively engaged in supporting her campaign and encouraging others to vote for her.

Both candidates seem to be fairly evenly matched in fundraising and both have professional teams guiding their efforts.

Early vote begins on January 9.  







2013 = Wild Political Ride

Welcome to 2013!  There will be so much to ponder this year that we tremor with excitement just thinking about it all.

First up will be the Special Election in Senate District 6.  I don’t know about you but I have seen numerous commercials for Carol Alvarado and Sylvia Garcia throughout the holidays.  We’ll be keeping a close eye on this one.

Even before the Special Election, the Texas Legislature will convene on January 8.  No doubt this will keep us all entertained between now and the end of May.

The President will give his State of the Union speech in late January and we will ponder if Congress has any hope of accomplishing anything this year.

And to bring it home, it is a City of Houston election year.  The fundraising window opens in February and candidates are already lining up.  We anticipate that Mayor Parker will have a strong opponent in Benjamin Hall and others may follow suit.  There are three Council Members term-limited so they will generate competitive races and a few incumbents are certain to face opposition.

Other local elections may involve school districts in the region seeking to emulate the success of HISD’s bond election and seeking their own bond approvals.

It will be an exciting year!

Housekeeping:  A few things to note about Ponderings.  We are planning an upgrade to the site so bear with us as we work to improve.

“We” versus “I” – I, Nancy Sims, author Ponderings.  However, I have a number of  team members  and sources that work with me.

News 92.1 FM – Every Monday morning, at approximately 9:44 a.m., I will be discussing politics with Dennis Spellman on News 92.1 FM.  We are working to be able to add the audio files to the blog, in case you cannot tune in at that time.

Again, thanks for you support!