This past week truly marked the start of Municipal campaign season in Houston. As the Legislature enters its waning days, more and more emphasis is being placed on not only the Mayoral election, but open City Council elections as well. While Houston’s great size ensures each individual City Council district is more populous than a Texas House district, the local nature of the office attracts a much different crowd.
Too often in today’s day and age, candidates are bankrolled, backed and often manipulated by the Chamber of Commerce or a Union. Super PACs and an overemphasis on money in today’s age of zero Campaign Finance regulation often cause candidates, both Democratic and Republican, to become corrupted empty shells.
This board remembers when smart legislation to combat “dark money” was initially supported by bipartisan margins in the Legislature, before Chamber of Commerce Super PACs sent lobbyists en masse to change their representatives minds, ultimately resulting in a veto from Governor Perry killing the bill. Likewise, this board remembers when an education reform measure in this year’s legislature became a partisan screaming match, rather than a mature discussion of the future of public education, when Democrats, backed by Teachers’ Unions, threatened to kill any bill including too substantial of changes.
These problems are significantly less pervasive in the Houston City Council, and not just because those offices are filled in a non-partisan manner. What makes municipal elections so great, in the eyes of this board, is the minimal influence of outside interest groups.
This upcoming election, there are three open City Council elections: At-large #3, District D & District I. Similarly, At-large #2 & District A have attracted tons of candidates despite not hosting open seats. Just between the former three seats, there are 21 candidates. Including the latter two contests as well, there are 31 candidates.
These candidates are not running for public office because they have been approached by an interest group, Super PAC or union, they are in the contest purely because of their ambition and self-drive. Each candidate has decided that her or his service to the City would be beneficial, and believe he or she would be helpful to the City of Houston.
In recent Municipal elections, even the most well-funded City Council candidates do not take their advertisements to the airwaves. This creates a wonderful equalizer in campaign expenses that gives even poorly-funded candidates a fighting chance. The minimal expenses of online advertising, specifically on Facebook and Twitter, dwarf that of radio or television advertising.
Over the next few weeks, this board will aim to meet with and interview most, if not all, of these candidates. This board will hold interviews to discuss the reasons these candidates seek public office, and, if they are challenging incumbents, why they could do a better job than any of the other candidates.