In the Fifth installment of the 2015 Texas Leftist Candidate Questionnaire, we hear from Lane Lewis, chairman of the Harris County Democratic Party and candidate for Houston City Council, At-Large Position 1.
Please note: Responses are directly from the candidate, and have been posted ver batim from the email received. This is done out of fairness to all candidates. Publishing these responses does not constitute an endorsement, but may be considered during the endorsement process.
TL: What is your name, as it will appear on the ballot?
LL: Lane Lewis
TL: Are you a current or former elected official? If so what office(s)?
LL: I am currently the Harris County Democratic Party Chair; Harris County is the nation’s third largest county with nearly 2 million registered voters. I was elected unanimously in a special election in December 2011, was re-elected in May 2012 with over 55% of the vote and won re-election again in 2014.
TL: As a political candidate, you clearly care about what happens in certain levels of government. In your own words, why is government important?
LL: I began my community involvement organizing friends and neighbors 25 years ago focusing on public safety and social issues. Time and time again the issues I encountered in communities came back to city services and infrastructure. This motivated me to run for office, so I could help provide the help communities and community organizers need to better their neighborhoods. Just recently after a tragic murder in of a young man in Neartown, I helped organize a formal dialogue between HPD and neighbors. The topic of safety again led back to infrastructure, the community and law enforcement agreeing sidewalks and lighting would be key in deterring crime. It only reinforced for me that; a prosperous, safe, world-class city cannot be built on crumbling streets.
As an At-Large Council Member, I will be able to influence initiatives that affect the entire city and benefit multiple districts. Infrastructure improvements need to be streamlined for the engineers, contractors and constituents.
TL: If elected, what is your top priority in office for the upcoming term? Describe how you plan to accomplish it.
1. Improving infrastructure
As an At-Large Council Member, I will be able to influence initiatives that affect the entire city and benefit multiple districts. Infrastructure improvements need to be streamlined for the engineers, contractors and constituents. I am also concerned that infrastructure needs are not adequately addressed in all neighborhoods fairly. City council can work with departments and stakeholders to find better ways to identify and address infrastructure issues, a process which has begun in earnest and I will help the current efforts anyway I can.
2. Growing the tax base with quality businesses paying livable wages
Houston needs a sustainable solution to budget and pension shortfalls. Tax hikes are not a long-term solution and drive away businesses and residents to surrounding municipalities. I will work with District Council Members and business leaders to expand business opportunities that are beneficial to hard working Houstonians. The city government plays a central role in making a city attractive to development and business investment and should pay particular attention to helping minority owned business participate and grow.
3. Relieving transportation and traffic congestion
Working with METRO and public works, city council can find solutions that fit the diverse needs of Houston. Properly executed alternatives like ride sharing, bike paths, new bus routes, and light rail can open our roadways. City council needs to lead on these initiatives.
TL: After decades of deferred maintenance and neglect, Houston’s infrastructure is in a critical state of disrepair. Ask any driver, cyclist or pedestrian, and they can readily tell you that city streets and sidewalks are crumbling… some to the extent that they pose significant danger to those that would traverse them. The Parker Administration has attempted to address the problem by the voter-approved ReBuild Houstonprogram. Knowing that the next Mayor has no choice but to invest in city infrastructure, do you support the continuation of ReBuild Houston? If yes, please explain why. If no, please explain how you would address our copious infrastructure needs differently.
LL: ReBuild Houston is not perfect, but the imperfections are mostly on the political side of its inception and the program itself is a strong step in the right direction. New projects are coming online and helping with Houston’s flood issues. The immediate problem is that we are so far behind that we are vulnerable today and ReBuild’s full impact will not be felt for decades to come. Once ReBuild finishes paying off decades of debt, it will produce about $600 million a year to our infrastructure and the number of projects will increase rapidly.
ReBuild’s pay-as-you go philosophy is a much needed improvement; however, it requires a project to be fully funded before work begins. I would like to explore the possibility of starting projects simultaneously based on a predicted revenue stream prior to being fully funded, but without borrowing money.
TL: At present the city of Houston has one of the strongest forms of “strong-Mayor governance” in the state of Texas, to the point that the Mayor alone decides what business comes before City Council. If elected, would you support an amendment to the City Charter that would allow any coalition of 6 Council Members to place items on the Council Agenda without prior approval from the Mayor? Whether yes or no, please explain your answer.
LL: I would approve such an amendment to provide balance to the horseshoe. I have strong personal and working relationships with most of the Mayoral candidates and am comfortable that I will be able to work effectively with any administration. Even if the power to place business on the agenda was granted to council, the Mayor of Houston would still hold tremendous power and influence over the process of voting and implementing that business. City council would still need a good relationship with the Mayor and the main trump card to counter the Mayor would still be public opinion. I am in favor of empowering council more with the understanding that the key to a productive council will always be the ability to work with the Mayor and fellow council members.
TL: If elected, would you support and seek to continue the current administration’s Complete Streets policy, which establishes that any new or significant re-build of city streets will work to prioritize and incorporate safe access for all road users, including pedestrians, persons with disabilities and cyclists?
LL: A significant change in our transit system must include options for pedestrians and cyclists of all ability levels. Complete Streets along with rail, bike paths, ride sharing, traditional cabs and most importantly the reimagined bus system, must work in concert to make a Houston a multi-mobile city. New development should encourage walkable neighborhoods and the city should provide that foundation.
TL: What makes you the best candidate for this office?
LL: My service to the community has given me strong relationships with elected officials and decision makers that can help me get things done. I have strong ties to leaders across the city, county, and state from all walks of life and in all areas of town. As a Houston City Council Member, you cannot accomplish your goals without the help of other council members, the Mayor, and constituents. My valuable relationships will enable me to be an effective council member from day one at City Hall.
My decades of service, the relationships I have nurtured with integrity, and my experience as an elected and appointed servant have prepared me for the job of Houston City Council. Public service is about solving problems and meeting the needs of constituents. That requires being able to pick up the phone on day one and having a positive relationship already established with the person on the other end.
No one else running for Position 1 has the number of or quality of both professional and personal relationships that I have with other elected officials and decision makers in the city or the state, which will allow me to get to work on day one.
TL: When not on the campaign trail, how do you like to spend your free time?
LL. I have a large library collection of books, so I read a lot. For the past year or so, most of my reading has been news and policy related rather than simply a good book. I have very little free time, so often by the time I get home around 9pm, I just make myself something to eat and lay in the floor with my dogs while watching a few minutes of TV before going to sleep.
Thanks to Mr. Lewis for the responses.