Category Archives: Politics

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.

 

Does Ossoff Race Reveal Trouble Ahead For Millennial Leaders?

So it isn’t exactly Texas.

But like the rest of the nation, many Texan eyes will be trying to read some political tea leaves after tonight’s Special Election for Georgia’s 6th Congressional District.  As the first such contest since Donald Trump took power, many Progressives have pinned their hopes on Jon Ossoff, the top Democrat in the race.  As Richard Fausset of the New York Times reports, this race is rife with implications for the nation’s thoughts on Trump and the overwhelmingly Republican, grossly under-performing Congress…

Voters in Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District will have 18 candidates to choose from Tuesday when they decide who should fill the seat vacated by former Representative Tom Price, a Republican who was tapped to become President Trump’s health and human services secretary.

But none have earned more press, or raised more money, than Jon Ossoff, 30, a Democrat and documentary filmmaker who bills his campaign as a way to “Make Trump Furious.” Now, in one of the first political tests of the Trump presidency, the question is whether he can turn anti-Trump anger and energy into enough votes to send him to Congress from a wealthy suburban district that has not sent a Democrat to Washington in decades.

The Times also provides an excellent 2017 Elections timeline, so you can keep up with some other key races in the coming months.  For an off-year cycle, there is plenty to watch.

We’ll hear plenty from tonight’s results, but ultimately that’s only one part of a much deeper story.  The most important events from this special election actually happened during the campaign.  As one of a precious few Millennials seeking federal office, Mr. Ossoff has had to endure the ire copious attack ads from Republican groups wishing to tarnish his credentials.  No surprise there.

But as Greg Bluestein of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports, the attacks they may have broad implications for virtually all aspiring Millennial leaders…

A Republican super PAC has unleashed a $1.1 million ad barrage against Jon Ossoff, a Democratic newcomer who is attracting national attention and a torrent of fundraising in his campaign to flip a conservative suburban Atlanta district.

[…]

The ad takes aim at Ossoff’s assertion that he worked for five years as a national security staffer who held top security clearances.

Ossoff and his campaign said he was granted those privileges working for Johnson after his 2006 election, while the super PAC depicts him as a college student “dressing up with his drinking buddies” for part of that time.

In a statement, Johnson called the ad “absurd.”

“Jon spent five years working on National Security issues for me, and he worked on such sensitive programs that he received a top secret security clearance from the Department of Defense,” said the DeKalb Democrat. “Washington political operatives are coming into Georgia to spread false personal attacks – it’s what the American people are sick and tired of.”

Instead of attacking Ossoff’s positions or his record directly, the PACs used old social media clips to paint him as an “irresponsible college student”, and make no mention of his career accomplishments since his 2009 graduation.

In essence, Mr. Ossoff is being punished in these ads because he is a Millennial.  Take a look at the “attack ad” in question.

Anyone that is around and under the age of 35 is likely to have similar clips on social media from an earlier point in their life.  A silly picture here, a politically incorrect comment there.  It’s part of the young adult experience to capture the less serious moments of their lives.  But if Ossoff’s race is any indication, these moments of past fun could wreak havoc for our nation’s next generation of leaders.

If by chance you’ve forgotten, folks like Ossoff are an anomaly.  Forget even running for office… Millennials are still struggling to even go and vote, as was well evidenced by the 2016 Presidential election.  But if they don’t show up and vote for their peers, they are leaving electoral decisions to an older generation which may view ads like the one above as an actual problem.

A loss for Ossoff means a validation of this strategy where younger candidates are made to look like fools from Social Media posts, and left far more vulnerable to defeat than their likely older counterparts.  In the years to come, who won or lost this race may be far less important than why behind.

So I’d like to hear your feedback in the comments.  Should Millennial candidates like John Ossoff be punished for having a Social Media history?  Let me know your thoughts.  

 

UPDATE: A big congratlations to Mr. Ossoff, who was the top finisher in last night’a Congressional Primary. Though the Democrat fell just shy of the 50 percent of votes needed to avoid a run-off, he was still far and away the winner of the contest, earning a larger percentage of the vote than all of his Republican challengers COMBINED. It’s on to the final contest, where he will face where he will face former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel.

One can only hope that the conversation moves beyond the baseless attacks waged during the Primary Campaign. But in the era of Trump, don’t hold your breath.

 

That Ole Time Division: Ideological Battle Threatens GOP

In 2017, everything’s coming up roses for the Republican Party. Fresh off the heels of a sweeping Electoral victory, the GOP has taken control and is working feverishly to Make America GREAT Again.

At least that’s what they thought they would be doing back on November 8th.  But now that post election reality has set in, the Republican-led Congress has revealed itself to be no more capable of actual governance than they were during the Obama era.  Their most recent attempt at a major legislative achievement, the repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act, went down in flames. With today’s resignation of embattled Chairman Devin Nunes, the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation into Russia’s interference with the Election has proven to be virtually invalid (if not damaging on its own.  And the hope of lawmakers to pass significant tax reform is proving far more difficult than originally anticipated.  And despite the President’s litany of controversial Executive Orders, his Administration is caught in their own ideological battle.  At least for the start of the Trump Era, governing is not getting done.

So as for what Republicans are doing well, what would be the answer?  To sum it up, they’re fighting with each other.  Freedom Caucus vs. Moderates, Speaker Ryan and the leadership vs. the insurgency.  Governing responsibilities be damned… the inner party Civil War has now been exposed for the American People to see.  As Kyle Cheney and Rachel Bade of Politico report, Obamacare is still a central point of contention…

Republican efforts to unite around a plan to repeal Obamacare devolved into a heated round of intra-party sniping Wednesday, as conservative groups publicly pummeled moderate GOP lawmakers — all while the White House talked of unity and progress.

The failure to reach a deal in late night talks Tuesday, which were held by competing factions of House Republicans and brokered by Vice President Mike Pence, led conservative advocacy groups Heritage Action and Club for Growth to lash out at centrist Republicans for resisting proposals to undercut Obamacare’s regulations.

“Each one of these members of Congress is standing in the way of compromise,” Heritage Action CEO Mike Needham said in a call with reporters, fingering the 50-member Tuesday Group as the culprit that “refuses to get to yes.”

“Their commitment to [repealing] Obamacare is one that existed on the campaign trail but does not exist in the halls of Congress,” he said.

It was an attempt to flip the narrative that has dominated in Washington after last month’s failed attempt to gut Obamacare: That the archconservative House Freedom Caucus was the singular impediment to the GOP’s progress on a seven-year priority.

Sounds like some of them miss the days when they had President Obama to kick around.

As readers to this blog know, Republican In-fighting has been the central characteristic of the party since Barack Obama’s election. But now that they are in total control, time is short for the GOP to prove they can run the government better than Democrats.  After nearly seven years of “show votes” to Repeal Obamacare, a failure actually do so when given the chance should be unacceptable to Trump supporters, Republican party faithful, and the general public.  Not only does this legislative debacle demonstrate a failure of ideas, it shows the Congressional GOP’s failure to put the most basic needs of the American People ahead of their own self interests.

As President Trump said, this behavior is a recipe for defeat.

All of this turmoil may not be good for the country, but it is definitely causing voters to have second thoughts about their support, or tolerance of the new Administration.  Mid-term Elections, like the one coming quickly for 2018, are rarely positive for the party in power.  But if that party is viewed as incapable of doing the People’s Business, Democrats could have much to gain.

IF Voter Turnout increases!!!!

 

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.

 

 

 

Held Accountable: Trump Advisor Resigns

In the flurry of events that have begun the Trump Presidency, it’s sometimes difficult to sort fact from fiction, or significance from daily bluster.  This presented a continual struggle for the news media during the 2016 campaign, and is even more of a challenge today.

But the news media is starting to figure it out.  In fact, this week has already proven an historic one for the young Trump Administration, as CBS News reports…

National security adviser Michael Flynn offered his resignation on Monday night, senior White House sources told CBS News. President Trump accepted his resignation and named a temporary replacement.

Flynn said in his resignation letter that during the course of his duties as incoming national security adviser he held “numerous” phone calls with foreign counterparts, ministers and ambassadors that were “to facilitate a smooth transition and begin to build the necessary relationships” between President Trump, his advisers and foreign leaders.

“Unfortunately, because of the fast pace of events, I inadvertently briefed the Vice President Elect and others with incomplete information regarding my phone calls with the Russian Ambassador,” he said. “I have sincerely apologized to the President and the Vice President, and they have accepted my apology.”

 

What was that Mr. Flynn said about Hillary Clinton?  “Lock Her Up”?

An international firestorm began to swirl around Former National Security Advisor Flynn when it was revealed that he spoke with Russian leaders about the possibility of alleviating sanctions once Trump took office.  And even after the resignation, this crisis is only deepening for the Trump Administration, as journalists continue to decipher exactly what the President may have known about these talks.

Thus why this situation is historic… it marks the first time the Trump folks have been held accountable for their questionable actions.  After a continuous succession of false statements, blatant denials and potentially dangerous missteps, the President and his team are FINALLY starting to bear consequences for their actions.  This is one complexity that a late-night Twitter rant simply will not repair.

With a Congress that seems to look the other way at every Trump misstep (where did those constant cries of ‘Executive Overreach go?!?!), the American People are now limited to the Fourth Estate as their primary watchdog in Washington.  Looks like we are starting to make use of it.

After ‘Travel Ban’, Citizens Gather, Support Texas Muslim Capitol Day

If Americans are learning anything in the wake of January 20th, it is this:  the controversy just doesn’t stop when your President is Donald Trump.  As if the proposed Border Wall plans weren’t enough for week one, the nation was left reeling late Friday from the President’s hastily announced (and apparently hastily conceived) ‘Travel Ban’ targeting persons from seven Muslim-majority countries.  The Executive Order erupted, causing mass confusion among affected travelers and barring people from entering the country.

Here’s the full text of the  President’s Executive Order:  Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States, directly from the White House.  Many Trump supporters are quick to point out that the Executive Order does not explicitly ban any person of a particular religion, so it is unfair for protesters and others to label it as a “Muslim Ban”.  But like many of the actions Trump has taken thus far, his true motives were revealed in a recent interview where he doubles down saying the Ban is “meant to prioritize Christians”.  So yeah… it’s a Muslim Ban.

 It’s in this fractured and uncertain environment that the Muslim community held its advocacy event in Austin.. Texas Muslim Capitol Day.  The biennial advocacy day was organized by the Texas area chapters of CAIR– the Council on American-Islamic Relations.  Here’s more on the event from Alexa Ura and Alex Samuels of the Texas Tribune…

Participants in Tuesday’s Texas Muslim Capitol Day traveled to Austin for a day of education about the state government. But they walked away with a significant lesson in civil demonstrations.

Two years ago, the Muslim participants who visited the Texas Capitol were met with two dozen protesters who repeatedly interrupted their event. But when participants walked up to the south steps of the Capitol on Tuesday morning, they were surrounded by a massive human circle made up of at least 1,000 supporters looking to ensure the event went off without a hitch.

“Civic engagement … it is not just a privilege. It is God-given privilege, and it’s also a blessing and our duty to participate,” Sarwat Hussain, president of the San Antonio chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, told the crowd gathered for the biennial advocacy day. “Lately, we have seen some demonstrations against us. That is not going to stop us at all.”

 

[…]

Outside the Capitol, more than 20 Democratic lawmakers attending the event made their support known. “We are with you … this is your country, this is your state,” state Rep. Celia Israel of Austin told the crowd. “Texas needs you, and you belong here.”

It was a sentiment made clear by supporters who had joined arms in front of the Capitol. And it was echoed earlier that morning when the first few students who arrived for the advocacy event were met with cheers and applause from the circle of supporters.

As positive as today’s events may have been outside the capitol, the usual business of exclusion and division was alive and well among leaders of the Texas Legislature.  In Governor Greg Abbott’s State of the State Address, chief among his agenda for lawmakers was to pass a ban on ‘Sanctuary Cities’.  What this means for immigrant communities remains to be seen.

But come what may, Texas Muslim communities and those that support them and our collective freedom of religion are here to stay, here to live, here to work and here to be visible.

Trump, Congress Say U.S. Will Pay For Border Wall

Barely a week into the Trump Era and the United States has already seen one of the largest protest marches in American history, caught the new Administration telling blatant lies… or as they would like to say, “Alternative Facts”… about something as inconsequential as crowd size at the inauguration, and taken rapid moves to dismantle the American healthcare system with no signs of a replacement in sight.

Someone call Mary J. Blige, because if this isn’t the ‘Thick Of It’ then we are in for a very tough ride.

As one would suspect, the dizzying developments continue.  After the President signed a sweeping Executive Order to fast track deportations and build the infamous Border Wall,  House Speaker Paul Ryan has stepped up to support the efforts, saying Congress can approve funding for the wall.

But as Eric Werner of the Associated Press (via PBS News Hour) points out, this isn’t exactly what Trump promised on the campaign trail…

House Speaker Paul Ryan says President Donald Trump’s border wall will cost $12 billion to $15 billion — and Ryan says Congress will pay for it by this fall.

Congress will move legislation this year providing up to $15 billion to build a wall along the Mexican boundary, Republican leaders said Thursday at their annual strategy retreat. But they would not say how they would prevent the massive project from adding to federal deficits. Ryan said the goal is to complete that and other major bills in 2017, but the leaders offered no details on how the wall would be paid for, saying they would wait until the Trump administration proposes legislation.

[…]

Trump has repeatedly said Mexico will pay for the wall, but Mexican leaders oppose it and have said they won’t finance it.

Congress will pay for “the construction of the physical barrier on the border,” Ryan said.

“We intend to address the wall issue ourselves,” Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said.

Pressed on whether construction would increase federal deficits, Ryan said Republicans are fiscal conservatives. He said strengthening the economy and replacing President Barack Obama’s health care system were two of the best ways to bolster the government’s budget.

“If we’re going to be spending on things like infrastructure, we’re going to find the fiscal space to pay for that” in a budget Congress plans to write this spring, Ryan said.

Umm Mr. Speaker, saying that Republicans are fiscal conservatives is not an answer of how specifically you plan on paying for the wall without adding to the federal deficit.  And it’s certainly not an answer that Republicans would have even consider accepting if the former Administration had proposed legislation without a way to pay for it.  They didn’t support President Obama’s initiatives even when they were paid for, but now we’re supposed to “just trust them”??

Worse yet, it was Donald Trump who said that Mexico would pay for the Border Wall, but now Congress is ready to put up our tax dollars that could be going to educate our kids and pay for our roads.

Sounds less like an ‘America First’ policy, and more like ‘Mexico First’. And Mexican citizens don’t even want the wall.

Let’s revisit some actual facts for a moment.  The United States does not need a Border Wall, because it will not stop illegal immigration to or through the country.  Last time I checked, we live in the 21st Century.  If people want to come to this country illegally, they can get here by simply taking a flight and overstaying their VISA (by many estimates, this is now the predominant mode of illegal immigration).  We can build a wall halfway to the moon and put over a million guards along the Rio Grande. If built, the whole wall project will serve to do more harm than good by fracturing the economies of border communities, seizing land from private landowners, endangering American jobs and reinforcing corrosive narratives which play into the hands of America’s enemies and undermine the values which perpetuate this nation.

Far more important than sealing our borders to keep people out, Congress must do the real work to fix our broken system and pass Comprehensive Immigration Reform.  Presidents on both sides of the political spectrum have tried and failed to get the real work of reform done, and it has been of great detriment to the nation.  Right now the country already spends north of $18 billion per year to enforce the border.  But if we brought our most vulnerable communities out of the shadows and forged a path to citizenship for those already here, we could not only make the American people safer, but generate billions of dollars (and lots of American jobs) in the process.

And let’s not forget, this is the common-sense conclusion that is shared across multiple political philosophies.  If you don’t believe me, take this statement on the border wall issue from the 2016 Gary Johnson campaign

“Having served as Governor of a border state, Gary Johnson understands immigration. He understands that a robust flow of labor, regulated not by politics, but by the marketplace, is essential. He understands that a bigger fence will only produce taller ladders and deeper tunnels, and that the flow of illegal immigrants across the border is not a consequence of too little security, but rather a legal immigration system that simply doesn’t work. Militarizing the border, bigger fences, and other punitive measures espoused by too many politicians are all simplistic “solutions’ to a problem caused by artificial quotas, bureaucratic incompetence and the shameful failure of Congress to actually put in place an immigration system that matches reality.”

Unfortunately for us, “reality” has been thrown out of the window for the next several years.  And soon, our view of it may be blocked from the wall.