Category Archives: Houston Politics

Victory Fund Selects Former Mayor Annise Parker As New CEO

It’s a precarious time for all of American Politics, which almost goes without saying in 2017.  But there may be no other segment which feels that precariousness quite like the LGBT community.  From historic highs like the election of Danica Roem, one of the nation’s first openly transgender state legislators, to an empowered push for discriminatory legislation, the year has been a tough one to navigate.

But if any politician knows how to traverse troubled waters, one would certainly consider Houston’s Former Mayor Annise Parker. Which may be part of the reasoning behind today’s big news.  Here’s more from John Wright of OutSmart Magazine

Former Houston Mayor Annise Parker is set to become CEO of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund and Victory Institute, the Washington, D.C.-based organizations that work to elect and train openly LGBTQ candidates nationwide.

The announcement was made Friday morning, Dec. 8, during the organization’s International LGBTQ Leaders Conference, when CEO Aisha Moodie-Mills said she is stepping down and that Parker will replace her.

Speaking by phone from the conference, Parker told OutSmart that the move “happened quickly,” after she received a phone call last week.

“I have a passion for this work, and the stars aligned,” she said.

 

Here’s the official press release from the Victory Fund website.

Elected 3 times to lead the nation’s fourth largest city, Annise Parker’s time as Mayor brought more than a fair share of legislative accomplishments, and some controversy.  But as a Red State Democrat and common-sense pragmatist with a long record of working across party lines, Parker brings many qualities which should serve the Victory Fund well in their goal to increase LGBT voices across all levels of government.

Congratulations to Mayor Parker on this exciting new opportunity to impact national politics.  Victory Fund will be a place to watch in the coming years.

 

 

Turner Tables Planned Revenue Cap Repeal Vote

After years of discussion and, failed attempts, and being a central focus of the last Mayoral election, Mayor Turner has likely decided that now is not the time to ask voters to repeal Houston’s self-imposed Revenue Cap.  As Rebecca Elliot of the Houston Chronicle reports, the surprise is a bit more complicated than your normal political flip-flop…

Mayor Sylvester Turner abruptly reversed course Wednesday on his plan to ask voters to repeal Houston’s revenue cap this fall, saying it now is “unlikely” he will ask for its removal.

The politically cautious move would leave the city fiscally shackled in the hope that a lighter November ballot improves the chances voters sign off on hundreds of millions in general improvement bonds and $1 billion in pension obligation bonds, a crucial piece of the mayor’s landmark pension reform package.

“Do I believe that the needs are as much there to remove it as they were when I came into office? Absolutely,” Turner said. “Do I want to run the risk of losing the reforms that we’ve made to our pension system? No.”

[…]

Turner’s about-face came during a City Council discussion of how the cap, which has cost the city an estimated $220 million in revenue since 2014, likely will force the city to scale back the street and drainage projects budgeted in its five-year Capital Improvement Plan, or CIP.

The decision came as a surprise in part because of Turner’s regular and consistent comments on why the repeal is needed.  Since before he took office, the Mayor has worked diligently to explain to Houstonians why the cap must be repealed.  In fact many would interpret the ballot initiative as ‘top of the agenda’ after the state legislature passed Houston’s Pension solution and it was signed into law by Governor Abbott in May.

But as we discussed on this week’s Houston Matters panel, the decision to spare voters this Fall likely has as much to do with politics as anything else.  Since January, the Republican political establishment have used the planned repeal as an organizing tool for the party, in hopes to defeat Turner in 2019.  Here’s an excerpt from the Big Jolly Politics site, written by Republican strategist Phillip Owens…

Many pundits are still trying to figure out what happened to the Republicans in Harris County in 2016. But 2017 creates opportunities for Republicans to grow the party and build for 2018 and beyond. I will focus on opportunities unique to Harris County in a series of articles, but for now let’s take a look at Mayor Turner’s promised efforts to repeal Houston’s Revenue Cap.

[…]

His statement could hold a few clues in how he might try to sway Houston’s voters to trust the City with more of your money. We’ve heard this all before when elected officials want to raise your taxes.  They make promises to “fix the flooding” and our streets, they offer better and more “public transportation,” and of course there’s the never-ending promise for more improvements to city parks.

But this gives Republicans a chance to mimic the Mayor’s claim that all these problems are going to be fixed with more revenue.  We should be asking a few questions, frequently, publicly and with lots of volume.  Wasn’t the so called “drainage fee” supposed to fix the flooding?  What is Metro doing with half of the City’s sales tax revenue?  Is Metro not providing quality transportation?  Do we need more empty double busses running all hours of the day?  Aren’t we already using $100 million of TIRZ revenues, that had had their revenue cap lifted years ago, to “fix” Memorial Park?

Well… it’s an interesting interpretation of what Houston municipal leaders are doing with the tax revenues they collect.  Perhaps Mr. Jones doesn’t ride METRO and hasn’t noticed that they appear to be putting our tax dollars to good use, especially in the wake of significant ridership increases after the system’s 2015 Reimagining. Those “half-empty buses” are steadily becoming a thing of the past.

Much of the same can be said for the City Houston, whose budgets during the Parker era saw some of the most innovative and cost effective budgets, in large part to stem the pain from the looming revenue cap.

But at the end of the day, the issue of Houston’s lost revenue may be delayed, but it’s not going away any time soon.  At some point, the question will have to be asked if a modest increase in taxes (an average of $12.27 per property owner) is worth keeping police on the streets and critical services for one of the nation’s fastest growing urban areas.

 

 

Houston’s Diversity: America Discovering What Locals Already Know

If you live in or frequently visit the city of Houston, then the term “diversity” is surely nothing new.  A stop in virtually any of the city’s major stores, malls or public spaces will quickly reveal a racial/ ethnic mosaic.  Even when Houstonians are segmented in an area of town dominated by one persuasion, they are never too far from others.  This is just the lived experience of those in the city of Houston, Harris County or Fort Bend County.

But to others across the United States, Houston’s Diversity remains something of a secret.  Shrouded by poor representation by our state government, and a disengaged Texas electorate, it’s easy to see why the Houston story is so difficult to grasp for outsiders.  Luckily, jounalists like Brittny Mexia and Gary Coronado of the Los Angeles Times decided to give it a try…

Houston boomed through the mid-20th century, thanks to the oil bonanza, and most of those who came to get rich were white. Large numbers of Vietnamese refugees began arriving in the 1970s, and after an oil collapse in 1982, they were followed by an influx of Latinos driven by cheap housing and employment opportunities. Whites, meanwhile, started drifting out.

The multi-ethnic boom has occurred deep in the heart of a state that has often seemed to regard conservatism, and Texas identity, as an element of religion.

The state’s Republican leadership has helped lead the fight this year not only on sanctuary cities, but to defend President Trump’s order on border security and immigration enforcement. Texas went to court in 2015 to successfully block expanded deportation protections for young “Dreamers” and their parents who brought them here illegally.

Yet demographic experts say the Houston metro area, home to the third-largest population of undocumented immigrants in the country — behind New York and Los Angeles — is a roadmap to what U.S. cities will look like in the coming decades as whites learn to live as minorities in the American heartland.

Census projections have opened a window into the America of 2050, “and it’s Houston today,” said Stephen Klineberg, a sociology professor at Rice University.

“This biracial Southern city dominated by white men throughout all of its history has become, by many measures, the single most ethnically diverse major metropolitan area in the country,” Klineberg said. “Who knew Houston would turn out to be at the forefront of what’s happening across all of America?”

If there’s anyone in the country that knew, it’s Dr. Klineberg, as his Houston Area Survey has meticulously tracked these changes for over 35 years.  The strength of Houston’s diversity has also produced real results in other areas.  As ranked by Expert Market, Houston is currently the Best City for Minority Entrepreneurs in the United States. The rapid ascent of educational institutions like the University of Houston and Texas Southern University has been fueled by the region’s minority population growth.

But the demographics are only a small part of the story.  Even as the area swells with new energy, those folks are not being accurately reflected in state and local government.  Though the 2016 elections saw an increase in overall voter participation and the minority vote, there’s little guarantee of those results being a trend. So even if Houston looks like a city of the future,  many more aspects of the area’s way of life are rooted firmly in the past. Until these minority communities discover the true political power which they hold, they will continue to be underserved, underrepresented and under-appreciated.

As more of America looks to places like Houston to chart a successful path forward, let’s hope they see not only an example of how a big diverse community can live together, but how everyone in those communities can have opportunities for success.

 

Beto O’Rourke Jumps Into 2018 Senate Race. Can He Win??

If you’re a Texas Democrat, it’s easy to say “we’ve been here before.”

Remember when Bill White was going to roll Rick Perry in 2010?  How about when Wendy Davis was going to sail into the Governor’s Office and “transform Texas” in 2014?  A polished, politically savvy Democrat is once again deciding to take a stab at the “red firewall” of Texas, and this time that politician is Beto O’Rourke, Congressman from El Paso who is challenging Ted Cruz for the United States Senate.

As Abby Livingston of the Texas Tribune reminds us, the odds O’Rourke aren’t just long, but may seem astronomical…

No Texas Democrat has won a U.S. Senate seat in nearly thirty years or any statewide office since 1994. It is hard to find a political operative in Washington or back in Texas who would bet money – or professional credibility – on O’Rourke winning this race. 

But the El Paso Democrat is earnestly bullish that he will go to the Senate through a strategy of bringing retail politics to a state of 27 million people. 

He has no pollster and no consultants at this point, and said he has no interest in hiring operatives of that ilk. 

“Since 1988, when Lloyd Bentsen won re-election to the Senate, Democrats have spent close to a billion dollars on consultants and pollsters and experts and campaign wizards and have performed terribly,” he said.

So that’s where we are.  But eventually, the Lone Star State have to suspend disbelief and focus on where we are going.

Texas Democrats are caught in a chicken vs. egg scenario. If we don’t run strong candidates, we’ll never build the infrastructure needed to win a statewide office. If a good candidate is out there, we would rather see them run now than us continue to wait for the “right moment”.

A Ted Cruz victory isn’t as sure as we may think.  Many folks in his own party would like to see the Senator lose his seat, and he may soon be facing some primary challengers.  When it comes to his actual job of representing 27 million Texans, the esteemed Senator doesn’t have much of a record on which to run.  Heck, citizens are lucky just to see the person they’ve paid over 1 million dollars in salary host a town hall meeting where they can express their concerns.  If O’Rourke can improve on these two paltry statistics, he’s off to a good start.

But the Congressman from Texas’ 16th District has an impressive record and some policy goals that will grab the attention of many young voters. His vocal support for the legalization of marijuana has already proven positive among Millennials. His record in local government proves the ability to work across the aisle and actually earn results for the people of his district.

With such depressing results, it’s easy to write Texas off as a wasteland for Democrats. But the potential of this State to surprise should also not be underestimated. Thanks to Bernie Sanders, and (ironically) the election of Donald Trump, Texas Democrats are energized and ready for change in 2018.  If that same coalition were to unite, reignite and stay energized around a statewide Democratic candidate, it’s more than possible that they could win. Indeed, Mr. O’Rourke has a Herculean task ahead of him, but with an early start and unconventional campaign, he might just take Texas by storm.

 

 

 

Shareholders’ Meeting: ‘Women’s March’ Welcomes New President

Yesterday the National Mall in Washington, DC was the site of one of our nation’s most cherished and important traditions.

And today, the same sacred site hosted another important tradition. The Women’s March on Washington had larger than expected turnout, with some news sources reporting a crowd comparable to attendance on the actual Inauguration Day.  Whatever the final numbers, it is quite possibly the largest inauguration-related protest in American history.

Standing in solidarity with Washington were citizens across the country, with many sites beating expectations.  The Lone Star State was certainly no exception.  The Houston estimate of attendees was north of 22,000, and estimates for Austin are said to have crossed up to 50,000 attendees.

So those are the stats, and here is the why.  Sure some people showed up today because they still refuse to see Trump as a legitimate President.  It was an opportunity for them to let off some steam, and be around like-minded folks with similar complaints.

But for most, today’s march was about more than Donald J. Trump, or any one President.  It was a reaffirmation of the America that has had a place since Barack Obama was elected in 2008.  It was a reminder that one Electoral College result may have chosen a leader, but it didn’t erase the people of this nation.  It didn’t erase their values.  Of the 324 million citizens in the United States (235 million in the voting-age population), 130 million of them participated in the 2016 Election.  Of that sum, state lines and their apportioned Electors determined a winner which only 63 million of those people selected, while 66 million chose the other candidate.  So sure, what happened today across the country was a protest.

President Trump is still relatively new to governing, but he has lots of experience in business.  So instead of viewing today’s events as protests, perhaps another way to think about them is a shareholders’ meeting.  Like any major company, the citizens of the United States all have a stake in our country.  As President, Mr. Trump is the only elected official whom serves all of us… 324 million shareholders, 324 million bosses.  Like the inaugural celebrants of yesterday, we have a right to ‘welcome’ the new administration as well, and voice our interests and concerns.  Glad to see that the message is getting out.

Here are a few snaps from Women’s March Houston

 

 

Texoblogosphere: Week of December 12th

The Texas Progressive Alliance can remember a time when Republicans thought Russian meddling into our affairs was a bad thing as it brings you this week’s roundup.

Off the Kuff notes that businesses have calculated the cost of Dan Patrick’s bathroom bill, but wonders if they have calculated the cost of Dan Patrick.

Libby Shaw at Daily Kos is grateful to a Houston Chronicle business reporter for exposing Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s rationale for his bathroom obsession. Practicing bigotry to mask fiscal and ethical failures. How we can expose this mal-practice?

Socratic Gadfly looks at Trump’s so-called “generals’ cabinet,” and suggests some additional generals.

The December 7th anniversary nobody in Southeast Texas wants to commemorate was shared by PDiddie at Brains and Eggs.

CouldBeTrue of South Texas Chisme is alarmed over Trump’s military cabinet choices. This is how a junta starts. He did promise regime change.

Neil at All People Have Value said Oakland warehouse fire victims used alienation to create rather than to attack. APHV is part of NeilAquino.com.

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And here are some posts of interest from other Texas blogs.

The Great God Pan Is Dead contemplates fire codes and art spaces in the wake of the tragedy in Oakland.

Lone Star Ma calls for action to help the women and children released from family detention centers.

Naveena Sadasivam talks to retiring environmental lobbyist Tom “Smitty” Smith.

Juanita gets mad about the latest governmental intrusion into uteruses.

The Lunch Tray notes the likely demise of the pending Child Nutrition Reauthorization (CNR).

Better Texas Blog highlights how much Texas will lose if the Affordable Care Act is repealed.

 

Houston Mayor Names New City Department Leaders

For all of the Federal Government’s turmoil and uncertainty with the impending Presidency of Donald Trump, Houstonians can be assured that municipal leaders have their act together.

As if Mayor Sylvester Turner’s deal with Uber this week wasn’t enough, the Chief Executive of Texas’ largest city had more big news to make this week.  Here it is directly from the city’s Press Release…

In a sweeping announcement, Mayor Sylvester Turner named four new department directors and a reappointment Thursday.  Pending City Council confirmation, Art Acevedo of Austin will assume the position of police chief and El Paso’s Samuel Pena will take over the fire department.

“Acting Police Chief Martha Montalvo and Acting Fire Chief Rodney West have performed exemplary in dealing with some challenges and we are indebted to them for their service,” said Mayor Turner.  “I had said all along that once we reached solution to our pension problems, I would move quickly to fill key positions.  This is the team that will carry us into 2017 and beyond.  We are going to build upon the successes of 2016 and be even more transformative, innovative and responsive.”

Acevedo has served as Austin’s police chief since 2007.  His 30 years of law enforcement experience began as a field patrol officer in East Los Angeles.  In Austin, he oversaw a department with more than 2,400 sworn officers and support personnel and a $370 million annual budget.  He joined the department at a time when relations with minorities were strained due to questionable police shootings.  He has been credited for a commitment to police legitimacy, accountability and community policing and engagement.  His accomplishments include creating a special investigative unit to criminally investigate officer involved shootings and a new disciplinary matrix.  Acevedo holds a Bachelor of Science in Public Administration from the University of La Verne, is a graduate of the FBI’s National Executive Institute and speaks fluent Spanish.

Pena joined the El Paso Fire Department in 1995 and then rose through the ranks to the position of fire chief, which he has held since 2013.  He has previous experience as a fire fighter, paramedic, media spokesperson, advanced medical coordinator, Combined Search and Rescue Team member, Hazardous Materials & Special Rescue Task Force member and academy training chief. He has a Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice and a Master’s Degree in Business Administration from the University of Texas at El Paso.  He is a veteran of the U.S. Air Force where he served for four years as an air control specialist. Like Acevedo, he is fluent in Spanish.

Along with the high profile appointments of Chief Designates Acevedo and Pena, Mayor Turner also appointed Judge Elaine Marshall to preside of the Municipal Court system, while Tom McCasland, currently serving as Interim Director of Houston’s Department of Housing and Community Development, will now ascend to the permanent post.  Municipal court Judge Phyllis Frye, the first openly transgender judge to ever serve in the state, was also reappointed to the city’s Municipal Court.

Once again surrounded by a diverse coalition of Council Members, Mayor Turner was all smiles in naming the “full house” of appointments.

Today’s news comes at the end of an unprecedented sweep of progress for the new Administration’s 1st year in office.  After the announcement of an historic pension reform plan last month, and a city budget that was passed unanimously by Council in the Spring, Mayor Sylvester Turner seems to be living by his mantra that Houston is “a can do city”.  If the game of politics is won with leadership by example, then Mayor Turner appears to be nothin’ but net.

Of course one final showdown is yet to come.  We’ll see what the State Legislature has to say about the pension deal next year.

Check out the Mayor’s Press Conference here.

 

houston-police-chief

Center, Incoming Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo.