House District 144 in east Harris County is a fascinating race to analyze. It is one of about 10 seats in Texas that will be competitive in the general election, and 3 Democrats and 2 Republicans are running in their respective primaries. Rep. Ken Legler (R) is the incumbent, and he opted not to seek reelection when the San Antonio court map reduced HD 144 to a 49.2% Optimal Republican Voting Strength (ORVS) from a 59.2% ORVS under the legislature’s map. The voting age population of the district is 69.8% Hispanic, with the Spanish surname voter registration being 48.2% in 2010. I classify the district as marginally Democratic and a top pick-up opportunity for the Democrats.
In 2008, Sen. McCain carried the district 51% to 48% over President Obama; Rick Noriega defeated Sen. Cornyn 53.6% to 44.3%; and Sam Houston (D) defeated Supreme Court Justice Dale Wainwright (R) 54.5% to 43%. In 2010, Mayor White defeated Gov. Perry 52.7% to 45.2%; Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples defeated Hank Gilbert 50.5% to 46.7%; and Railroad Commissioner David Porter (R) defeated Jeff Weems (D) 49.4% to 46.7%.
The 3 candidates in the Democratic primary are Mary Ann Perez, Chair of the Houston Community College Board of Trustees and owner of an insurance agency; Kevin Risner, a Senior Account Manager with CBS Radio and son of local Justice of the Peace George Risner; and Ornaldo Ybarra, a Pasadena City Council Member, Pearland police officer, and a Marine Corps veteran. Full disclosure: I am backing Perez.
Even though HD 144 was drawn as a Hispanic opportunity district, I see Risner as currently leading the Democratic primary based on higher turnout among Anglo voters, goodwill for his popular father, and Perez and Ybarra splitting the Hispanic vote. However, I believe Risner is potentially a fatally flawed candidate.
According to a Criminal History Search with the Texas DPS, Risner was arrested for DWI by the Del Rio Police Department in 1999. He plead guilty in 2000 and a Del Rio County Court at Law gave him deferred adjudication, even though there has been no deferred adjudication for DWI in Texas since 1984. He was again arrested for DWI by Houston Police Department in 2005 and 2007 and subsequently convicted both times. I have never heard of a candidate, age 31, with 3 DWI’s (1 deferred, 2 convictions) running for public office.
I suspect the Republicans will be licking their chops to face him in the general election.