Previewing elections in Houston and Pennsylvania

The Daily Brew
Welcome to the Tuesday, October 29, Brew. Here’s what’s in store for you as you start your day:

  1. Twelve candidates running for Houston mayor 
  2. Pennsylvania voters to decide six statewide judges, one constitutional amendment, in addition to local races
  3. 43% of Brew readers surveyed have participated in a school board meeting

Twelve candidates running for Houston mayor 

Today is game 6 of the World Series in Houston. Today, our preview of key Nov. 5 elections focuses on the mayoral race in Houston—the fourth-largest city in the U.S. The 2013 census estimated that Houston’s population was 2.2 million with a city budget of $5.1 billion as of the 2017 fiscal year. According to the Legislative Budget Board, Texas’ state budget during the 2017 fiscal year was $209.4 billion. 

Voters will decide among 12 candidates for mayor—including incumbent Sylvester Turner—in the city’s general election. In addition, all 16 seats on the city council and the city controller. If no candidate receives more than 50% of the vote Nov. 5, the top two finishers will advance to a runoff election on December 14.

Policy debates have centered on Turner’s record during his first term, especially regarding the city’s budget and spending priorities. Turner has said his accomplishments in office include balancing the city’s budget, leading the recovery effort after Hurricane Harvey, reforming the city’s pension system, improving infrastructure, and strengthening the economy. His opponents have criticized him, saying he has not done enough to combat flooding, crime, and infrastructure deterioration.

Local media outlets have identified five major challengers to Turner—Kendall Baker, Dwight Boykins, Tony Buzbee, Bill King, and Sue Lovell. Baker, Boykins, and Lovell have criticized Turner’s budgetary opposition to Proposition B, a ballot referendum passed in 2018 requiring equal pay between firefighters and police officers. Buzbee and King both say corruption is creating inefficiency in Houston’s government.

Houston’s mayor serves as the city’s chief executive and is responsible for proposing a budget, signing legislation into law, appointing departmental directors, and overseeing the city’s day-to-day operations. He or she also presides over the city council with voting privileges. 

Although municipal elections in Houston are officially nonpartisan, Mayor Turner is a former Democratic member of the Texas House of Representatives, Baker ran as a Republican for the Texas House in 2016, Buzbee ran for the Texas House as a Democrat in 2002, and Lovell was elected as a member of the Democratic National Committee in 2000.

Currently, 62 mayors of the largest 100 cities by population are affiliated with the Democratic Party, 29 are affiliated with the Republican Party, four are independents, and five identify as nonpartisan or unaffiliated. 

Early voting throughout Texas runs from Oct. 21 through Nov. 1. All registered voters may vote at any early voting location in the county in which they are registered.

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Pennsylvania voters to decide six statewide judges, one constitutional amendment, in addition to local races

Pennsylvania voters will select six appellate court justices and decide a statewide constitutional amendment—in addition to local elections—Nov. 5. 

Four seats on the Pennsylvania Superior Court are up for election with two current justices facing retention elections and two open seats to be decided by partisan elections. Two Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court judges are also facing retention elections.

The Pennsylvania Superior Court reviews most of the civil and criminal cases that are appealed from the courts of common pleas in the state’s 67 counties. It consists of 15 judges who are elected to 10-year terms.  After serving an initial term, judges are then subject to a retention election. If cases at the superior court are appealed, they are heard by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

The current partisan composition of the Pennsylvania Superior Court is eight Republicans and six Democrats, based on official election results. One seat is vacant. One Republican and one Democratic judge are running for retention. Justice Paula Ott (R) did not file to run for re-election. 

The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court serves as an appellate court for cases involving state and local governments or regulatory agencies, or when the case relates to certain specific subject areas. The court also has original jurisdiction over all cases involving elections and when someone files a lawsuit against the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. It consists of nine judges who are also elected to 10-year terms and who must stand for retention after his or her initial term. 

Judicial system

The current partisan composition of the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court is seven Republicans and two Democrats. Both judges running in this year’s retention elections are Republicans.

Pennsylvania voters will also decide a legislatively referred constitutional amendment to add specific rights of crime victims—together known as Marsy’s Law—to the Pennsylvania Constitution. These provisions have been approved by voters in 12 other states. Voters will also see a variety of local measures, including one in Pittsburgh to establish a Parks Trust Fund with revenue from a property tax and two measures in Philadelphia concerning a bond issue and competitive bidding.

There are also the following local races in Pennsylvania—in addition to other elections beyond our coverage scope:

  • general elections for five of nine city council seats and the city controller in Pittsburgh;

  • general elections for mayor, all 17 seats on the city council, all three seats on the city commission, county sheriff, register of wills, six trial court judges, and one municipal judge in Philadelphia;

  • retention elections for 11 trial court judges and six municipal judges in Philadelphia;

  • general elections for 10 of 15 seats on the county council, county controller, county executive, county district attorney, county treasurer, and six magisterial district judges in Allegheny County; 

  • General elections for four of nine seats on the Pittsburgh Public Schools school board.

Pennsylvania voters wishing to cast an absentee ballot must apply by today—Oct. 29—at 5 p.m. Absentee voting is only allowed under specific conditions in Pennsylvania. 

43% of Brew readers surveyed have participated in a school board meeting

Our last four What’s the Tea? questions asked whether Brew readers have attended meetings of a school board, local government, or served on a jury. Last week’s question was slightly different—I asked how many readers have participated in a school board meeting. Although I’ve attended several meetings of my local school board, I’ve never participated during one.

Forty-three percent of respondents said that they had, whether it was asking a question or sharing an opinion during a part of the meeting where the board sought input from attendees. 

School board meeting responses