On Houston’s impending Non- Discrimination ordinance, new developments abound…
First,Off the Kuff reminds everyone that it’s not out of the ordinary for Council Members to take a cautious approach…
There’s been a lot of speculation about who may or may not support the ordinance that Mayor Parker has promised to bring before council. As yet, there is not a draft version of the ordinance, and that seems to be the key to understanding this. As CMs Bradford and Boykins mention to Lone Star Q, without at least a draft you don’t know what the specifics are. Maybe it’ll be weaker than you want it to be. Maybe it’ll be poorly worded and you will be concerned about potential litigation as a result. It’s not inconsistent for a Council member to say they support the principle and the idea of the ordinance, but they want to see what it actually says before they can confirm they’ll vote for it.
A key point to consider, particularly when trying to gauge the votes of members like Kubosh who have given little indication for why they might be supportive. Which is why it’s more important than ever to continue to focus on Mayor Annise Parker, and any clues of what to expect. In her State of the City address, she laid out that the planned ordinance will offer protections to all public employees, housing and businesses with public accommodations. Extending non-discrimination protections to private employment has never been mentioned by the Mayor herself. Given that the only way an ordinance can be proposed is from the Mayor’s office, this point is crucial. No matter what the community wants… no matter how many Council Members they call asking if they’d support extensions to private employment, Council won’t have the option to vote for a strengthened ordinance if the Mayor doesn’t propose it in the first place.
Texas Leftist was able to ask this question of Mayor Parker in a recent interview with News 92 FM. Conducted by JP Pritchard and Lana Hughes, here’s how the exchange transpired…
JP Pritchard: From Texas Leftist, In light of recent developments, are you willing to strengthen the planned Non- Discrimination Ordinance to include private employment?
Mayor Parker: I am willing to cover private employment, but this is not about my personal preferences. This is about getting an ordinance that will pass Council and that is defensible with the public, and a repeal effort after that. I’m not going to let the perfect be the enemy of the good. I am interested in having an effective Non- Discrimination ordinance, and if it doesn’t go as far as it could the first time around, there is always an opportunity later to fix it.
As you can see, it is again a very political answer. Parker says she’s willing, but at the same time it appears she has already decided what will be proposed. This makes me wonder if all of the work trying to sway Council is even worth it if the Mayor isn’t movable on the central issue. Is it Council that is unwilling to support a strengthened ordinance, or is it the Mayor?
The only other possibility here? If Parker brings hers as planned, and one of the Council Members submits an amendment to extend protections to private employment. The likelihood of this happening is very slim. There are certainly those at the Council table looking to score some political points against Parker, but I highly doubt this is the issue they would choose. One thing is clear… if Houston wants the best possible Non- Discrimination Ordinance, the buck stops with Parker.
In the Fifteenth installment of the 2013 Texas Leftist Candidate Questionnaire, we hear from Hon. Annise D. Parker, current Mayor of Houston, and running for her third and final term.
Please note: Responses have been received 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 will be considered during the endorsement process.
TL: What is your name, as it will appear on the ballot?
AP: Annise D. Parker
TL: Are you a current or former elected official? If so what office(s)?
AP: I am currently Mayor of Houston.
TL: As a political candidate, you clearly care about what happens in certain levels of government. In your own words, why is government important?
AP: In order for human beings to live in concert with one another, you have to have government. It’s a mechanism for deciding what you do as a community. I have been frustrated that, as a country, we seem to be losing that focus on community in favor of a more consumer-driven focus on individuals wanting to pay only for the services they use. It is my hope that people will think more about how we can re-engage as a community and re-engage with local government in service of community. Government should be run efficiently and effectively. I have applied many approaches I’ve learned in the business world to achieve that. But ultimately, government is a service organization, not a business. It really is about making our communities stronger.
TL: If elected, what is your top priority in office for the upcoming term? Describe how you plan to accomplish it.
AP: Continue to create jobs. We are seeing very good results from Hire Houston First, a program I started to give preference to firms that hire local workers when they apply for city contracts. I will continue the reforms we started in the Office of Business Opportunity – the former Affirmative Action Department. We expanded our overall city-contracting goal for small, minority, woman-owned businesses to 34 percent. We’ve helped secure more than $25 million in private funds for small business loans. We’ve provided incentives that have attracted more than $2.2 billion in economic development for the city. And we’ve worked with labor unions to provide apprenticeship programs on city-funded projects.
Continue to reduce crime and improve public safety. Since I became mayor, Houston’s overall crime rate is down more than 8 percent. We’ve modernized public safety, protected police officers from layoffs and increased the number of officers on the street. We’ve revamped the police radio and technology system, bulldozed 2,000 crack houses and dangerous abandoned buildings, opened our new Sobering Center so that police officers can focus more of their time on fighting crime, made substantial progress on creating an independent crime lab (separated from the police department), put a plan in place to eliminate the backlog of sexual assault kits and more.
Use resources available to the city to support our children’s education. Although the city is not charged with education in the traditional sense (setting the curriculum, hiring teachers, etc.) I’ve made sure that our resources are working to strengthen schools and help schoolchildren. In August we distributed 25,000 backpacks full of school supplies to children in need. I appointed a Chief Education Officer to coordinate city initiatives around education. We’re working to coordinate infrastructure projects near schools and keep our kids safe when they go to school. We’re building new libraries and funding after-school programs. We’re working with partner organizations to help children stay in school and gain the necessary skills to find good jobs when they graduate.
TL: With the exception of city government and some other select businesses, Houstonians can still be fired for being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender because we do not have a comprehensive non-discrimination ordinance for general employment. This lags behind other Texas cities such as Dallas, Austin, and Ft. Worth. Do you support a comprehensive non-discrimination ordinance for the city of Houston? If not, please explain why. If so, please explain how you would work to pass such a measure.
AP: I absolutely believe we should pass an anti-discrimination ordinance. Houstonians deserve those protections. Passing the ordinance will require agreement from all councilmembers, and when we have the support necessary we can move forward.
TL: There have been an alarming number of complaints filed against officers in the Houston Police Department, accused of unwarranted police brutality towards citizens. A disproportionate amount of this violence occurs in minority communities, and in the vast majority of these cases, officers have gone unpunished. As a result, these incidents cause a cycle of mistrust between Houstonians and the very officers sworn to protect them. What can you do to increase oversight of the Houston Police Department, and help ensure that these incidents do not continue?
AP: The Chief of Police, his Command Staff and I take very seriously any allegation of police brutality. That’s why it is simpler and easier than it has ever been before to bring a complaint against an officer. We revised the complaint process, removing language on the forms that threatened perjury charges for unproven allegations. We made complaint forms available for the first time through community organizations like NAACP, Urban League and LULAC. We created the Independent Police Oversight Board, whose community panelists review allegations of police abuse, use of force and all discharges of weapons. We have begun to deploy body cameras among patrol officers, with the goal of having all officers wear them as soon as financially possible. We are purchasing new TASERS that limit the duration of the electrical charge administered. And we have dealt swiftly and decisively in removing officers who have violated the rights of citizens.
TL: What makes you the best candidate for this office?
AP: Houston is leading the nation in job creation and the vast majority of ways that people rank cities. I’m running because I believe we can do even better. During my two terms as Mayor, Houston’s city government is borrowing less and doing more on a pay-as-you-go basis. We’ve created a dedicated fund for street repairs and flood prevention. We’ve secured funding for new libraries and laid the foundation for a parks and trails system that most cities can only dream of. We put more police officers on the street and are working to make our city safer. We’re demolishing crack houses and dangerous abandoned apartment complexes – and we’re modernizing our police and fire stations. I want to help the best city in America get even better.
TL: When not on the campaign trail, how do you like to spend your free time?
AP: Between my job as mayor and my campaign, free time is a real luxury! I spend as much time at home with my family as I can – and I relax by reading and working in the garden tending my cacti, succulents and orchids.
With political campaigns raining down upon the city of Houston, most everyone is focused on one date in the immediate future… November 5th 2013. A mere 6 weeks away (4 weeks for those smart enough to remember how critical Early Voting is in Harris County), the candidates barely have time to think about much else, as every word they say and place they go is influenced to sway voters.
But sometimes in the midst of all the craziness, something reveals that long-term goals are still very important. Take this exchange between Houston Mayor (and incumbent mayoral candidate) Annise Parker and the Texpatriate blog…
T: What was one ordinance you authored that has now become law?
AP: There have been so many! I would highlight our Hire Houston First initiative.
Hire Houston First gives a preference to companies bidding for city contracts if they hire local workers. It keeps our tax dollars working at home – when we hire Houston workers, they spend their earnings here, supporting other Houston businesses that can hire even more workers. In its first year, we certified 617 companies and awarded more than $139 million of city business under the Hire Houston First program, sustaining more than 6,000 jobs. Today, there are 944 firms that have been certified under Hire Houston First.
That’s a big deal for Houstonians who have been struggling since the recession. I understand what it feels like to suddenly not know how you’re going to make ends meet. When I was growing up, my father invested all his savings to start a fishing camp on the Gulf Coast. It was his dream, and it was a success – until one day a barge knocked down the only bridge to the peninsula where we were located. It wasn’t his fault, but my dad went broke. I can still see the worry in his eyes. It took a long time for our family to get back on its feet. And I know there are a lot of families like that in Houston today.
I am proud of Hire Houston First because it’s making real progress for Houston families.
From reading this, it’s pretty clear that Mayor Parker views Hire Houston First as not only good government policy, but a central part of her legacy as the city’s chief executive. She wants the “Parker era” to be remembered in part for this program, and how it, in her view, helped to bring Houston out of the Recession. Most people would agree that it’s a pretty good pick too, as Hire Houston First touches the lives of thousands of Houstonians through small business investment. The program also proves that government doesn’t always have to “get in the way”, but can be a true partner with the private sector to build up the community.
Barring unforeseen disasters, she may also be remembered as one of the most effective consensus builders in the city’s recent history. A prime example of consensus was the passage of changes to Chapter 42, Houston’s development code. Parker was able to take opposing sides that have argued over this issue for more than a decade, and create a compromise both could live with.
Beyond actual municipal legislation, Parker has managed to forge impressive common ground with Harris County Judge Ed Emmett and the Commissioner’s Court. With Commissioner’s Court being a majority Republican body, they clearly don’t agree with Parker on all issues. But she’s done a very good job at staying out of their way, and trying not to stoke as much controversy as her predecessor Bill White. Unlike county and state elections, Texas municipal elections are non-partisan, and Parker has used that fact to great advantage. Fruits of this working relationship have been wide-ranging, from the deal and on-time construction of the Dynamo Stadium to much more efficient cooperation of city and county jail procedures.
Much could still be added to the Parker legacy, as one more election night (and possible run-off) will determine whether she is granted a 3rd term as Mayor. Regardless of whether or not she is granted that term, it is the hope of this blog that the Mayor will use what time she has left to advance causes for equality. I’m with fellow Blogger Brains and Eggs and firmly believe that the time to push for equality is NOW. Demonstrated leadership in other Texas cities, New Mexico and across the country make true equality of Houston all the more imperative. And with proper public attention, City Council members are now being asked to weigh in on these issues. Parker’s common-sense style of consensus building has worked for some of her other achievements, and it would work just as well in this fight. She is uniquely skilled for this moment in Houston history. For even the most overtly cautious politician, all signs for progress seem to be converging upon the Bayou City. One could even argue that it’s the right move to encourage and unite portions of the Mayor’s base that have become apathetic in recent years. In other words… a move toward equality would likely strengthen Parker’s chances at reelection, not damage them.
As outlined in this post, Mayor Parker has had many accomplishments… but until a firm push is made on LGBT equality, her legacy for the city of Houston will be incomplete.
To say that the past few weeks have seen fast progress for LGBT equality would be a gross understatement. Just a few short years ago, it seemed an endless fight. But today, even without full federal protections in place, some states are working hard to change things. Marriage equality has moved with lightning speed over the pass few weeks, being approved in Delaware, Rhode Island and Minnesota. They’ve joined other states that are paving the way to a better, safer and stronger future for all of their residents.
Unfortunately though in Texas, our LGBT communities continue to struggle beneath a firewall of state laws prohibiting progress. And until there are significant changes in state government, that reality would seem to persist in the forseeable future. In fact, with today’s news of a Collin County judge saying a lesbian couple can no longer live together, some would argue that we’re moving as fast as possible in the opposite direction. The efforts in Texas to stem the tide of change are just as extraordinary as the historic changes have been.
It is through this lense of intolrance that Texans have to fight the battle for equality, and in this state, it is every bit a battle. But beyond working to change the law, one of the most important aspects of this fight is setting good examples in our community, and shattering the lies that drive Anti-LGBT sentiment. The more Texans that live out in the open as LGBT, behave as good neighbors, and do all the things that we already do, the better prepared we will be for that moment when our laws can change. I wrote a few weeks back about some frustration within Houston’s LGBT community. Three years after the historic election of Mayor Annise Parker, many laws regarding LGBT equality have not changed. It’s a valid point, and an important opinion to share on behalf of many in the community.
But what was missed in that article is the profound impact that Mayor Parker’s leadership has had within Houston, and beyond. She forged a path to show Houston that an LGBT person is capable of being mayor of a major city. She has continued to prove that Houston is a city that can get major things done to improve the quality of life for everyone. And as I have learned since writing the last post, she has inspired many other LGBT persons in Conservative states looking to be pioneers in their own communities.
Perhaps most importantly though, the Mayor seems committed to making progress, even when the picture for equality isn’t always ideal. In a touching Huffington Post Op-ed for Mother’s Day, Parker shared the following…
People who know gay couples know that we are just as committed to each other as our straight counterparts. And people who know gay parents know we are just as dedicated to raising our children with love and protecting them from harm. We will keep pushing for the government to treat us equally — in marriage and adoption and beyond — and in the meantime, we’ll keep being who we are, openly and honestly, and showing just how alike we all are in the ways that really matter.
This post is not a retraction of the former post, or an endorsement. I still hope that the Mayor will work to pass equal rights into Houston’s laws. But it is a recognition that even if she hasn’t done that, the examples she and other LGBT leaders set are critical in the fight for full equality. And as long as our leaders do that, they create a pathway to the protections we seek.
It’s been quite the whirlwind day for GLBT equality, and oddly enough none of the major news was from Washington for once. In the words of the HRC’s Chad Griffin, Jason Collins “changed the face of sports forever” by the being the first active American professional athlete to come out as gay. For the movement toward GLBT equality and acceptance, this can only be seen as a major step forward.
Houston was the scene for a similar step forward in GLBT history 3 and 1/2 years ago, when our Mayor Annise Parker, became the first openly gay person to lead a major American city. It was Houston that achieved this milestone, and not only did we do it in Texas (some would say that is a feat to itself), but we did it before the cities that are assumed to be more progressive like Los Angeles, New York or even San Francisco. Which makes today’s events in Houston all the more complex. Through the digital magazine CultureMap, the mayor held an “Ask Annise” web event, inviting citizens to ask about any questions they wanted about city issues, and even interesting facts. So I decided to participate, and thankfully the CultureMap staff picked up my question. Here’s how it went…
Texas Leftist: During your administration, you’ve tackled some of our city’s toughest issues… Chapter 42, city pensions, etc. and as a result have made tremendous progress. But why has so little been done regarding the LGBT community? With the exception of city government and some other select businesses you can still be fired for being LGBT because we do not have a non-discrimination ordinance for general employment. This lags behind other Texas cities such as Dallas, Austin, and Ft. Worth. When will you work to pass city-wide non-discrimination laws for our city? And even if it weren’t to pass council, isn’t the conversation worth having for the sake of all Houstonians?
Mayor Annise Parker:The conversation is worth having and as an openly lesbian politician, it is clearly not an issue I’m afraid to tackle, but see the answer above. I am unwilling to bring an issue forward when I know there aren’t sufficient votes to pass it. A non-discrimination ordinance would be important, but I am more interested in seeing discrimination removed from our city charter.
The city is prohibited by charter from offering domestic partner benefits or from recognizing the domestic relationships of our gay and lesbian employees. It would require a vote of the citizens to undo. I hope Council will join me in placing it on the ballot at the appropriate time.
I think I understand Mayor Parker’s point here… why waste the energy on one contentious issue when there are so many other things that can be done? From a purely political calculus, this type of “playing it safe” approach makes perfect sense.
But the problem here? Equality isn’t safe, and it’s definitely not supposed to be based on a political calculation. Every day in Houston and throughout much of this country, discrimination continues unabated against our LGBT citizens… people ARE losing their jobs because they are gay. They are getting harrassed at work, beaten up, and for some people, right here in the city of Houston, they are even losing their lives. You don’t come out as LGBT in this country to be safe. You don’t support LGBT issues to be safe. You come out and you support equality because it’s who you are, and who you love.
As a constituent, I have great respect for Mayor Annise Parker. The city of Houston has weathered our nation’s economic storms better than any other metropolitan area, in no small part to a thoughtful and responsive city government under her stewardship. She has a not insignificant record on LGBT rights, having appointed Texas’ first Transgender judge Phyllis Frye, and is a member of Mayors for the Freedom to Marry. As the top executive of the city, she has extended equal protection rights to all city employees. The Mayor, having suffered so many of these indignities herself, knows what should be done for Houston. And of course, her election in itself was an important turning point in American politics, and brought new elevation to all of Houston’s LGBT community.
But as someone that cares about progress throughout Houston, Texas and the whole country, it is not sufficient that we continue to “play it safe”. Sometimes progress isn’t about the end result… it’s about the journey to get there. In what is likely to be her 3rd and final term, I hope Mayor Parker considers taking a different path. Not only for the 2.2 million Houstonians that are depending on her leadership, but all of the Progressive forces that have invested in her current campaign, and her bright political future.