It may be a much shorter ballot and in the throes of Holiday Season, but the 2015 Election process will not be complete until December 12th— the date for the Houston Run-off Elections. As predicted, many important local races have gone to a runoff, and Houstonians will need to come back and vote. After all, this is where the city’s next Mayor will be selected.
All throughout the 2013 Mayoral election, Houston’s Progressive community has wondered where Mayoral candidate Ben Hall stands LGBT issues such as marriage and workplace discrimination. As Mayor and current incumbent Annise Parker has faced much scrutiny regarding these issues, Ben Hall has seemed to get a free pass, managing to artfully avoid all questions on the subject. But today on Houston Matters with host Craig Cohen, the answer finally escaped from his lips. He does not support any form of a comprehensive non-discrimination ordinance.
“We have a clear difference on these issues. The Mayor is supporting a similar ordinance (to San Antonio) where you’d have extension of rights in terms of anti-discrimination laws on the issues of sexuality… whatever the issue may be, I would not support such an ordinance…”
Now keep in mind that Mr. Hall is not only a lawyer, but the former City Attorney of Houston. He has an extensive background regarding cases of minority discrimination, and Civil Rights protections. He is not uneducated in these subjects in any way. But yet, he chooses to deliver an answer so simplistic that you’d think he has no background in law at all. He groups all LGBT rights and protections into one massive hub, and says just because he disagrees with one precedent set by Parker, he would oppose any and all legislation to protect the LGBT community. Few things shock me in this campaign, but Hall’s answer today was quite a surprise.
Here’s the full interview from Houston Matters. I’ll have more thoughts on this before Election Day…
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.
As 21st century people, we’re pretty used to rapid innovation. After all, the very notion of this blog is less than 20 years old. Some of the innovations that we can’t live without… phones that double as personal computers, cloud storage, digital transmission… must have seemed like a distant pipe dream before we had them. Though sometimes, when I’m downloading a song to my iPhone, I do have to just stop for a second and marvel at how rapidly the process of acquiring music has changed.
Sometimes the pace of change is so fast that we don’t realize that combining these innovations can be a huge leap forward in itself. Well, the city of Houston, Texas is “literally” going to turn trash into treasure. With the revolutionary ‘One Bin For All’ plan, citizen waste disposal and recycling will become a relic of the past. Houston, under Mayor Annise Parker’s leadership, wants to create a state-of-the-art waste facility that will specialize in ‘total reuse’… reclaiming recyclables from every piece of trash in the city. The plant will combine the lastest technology of digital imaging, filtering and sorting to create a high-speed, high accuracy concept. If successful, this would cut down the city’s landfill usage by a whopping 75 percent.
Of course a plant like this is expensive… with an estimated cost of $100 million dollars. But by turning all city trash into net recycling, the city creates jobs, saves time, and wastes less. And of course the payback to the environment is even better than money could buy. As an entry in the Bloomberg initiative, Houston has the chance to make One Bin For All a reality.
This is not to say that there aren’t other fantastic finalists in the Mayor’s challenge… I would encourage you to check out all of the entries through Huffington Post. But this blogger’s all in with One Bin For All.
Though not at the national level, Houston Mayor Annise Parker presently serves the largest single electorate of any openly gay US politician. Though US House Representatives like Tammy Baldwin, Barney Frank and Jared Polis are on the national stage, their electorate is much smaller… approximately 700,000 people. The city of Houston is over 2 million people, and has now elected mayor Parker twice. That’s a huge share of the population, especially when you consider that her electorate is in the Conservative “stronghold” of Texas.
Mayor Parker’s record could be broken this fall, as Rep. Baldwin is running for a Senate seat in Wisconsin. It’s already hotly-contested by anti-gay forces in the GOP.
But for tonight, I will definitely be watching Stephen Colbert give the fair mayor a few good laughs. I wonder if he’ll ask her about running for the US House or Senate?
(Annise Parker and her Partner Kathy Hubbard. David J. Phillip/AP)