Texpatriate’s Questions for Rogene Calvert

Editorial note: This is the eighth in our series of electronic interviews with City Council, City Controller and Mayoral candidates. We have sent 10 questions based on seven different templates: (1) incumbent City Council, (2) challenger City Council, (3) open seat City Council, (4) challenger Controller, (5) incumbent Controller, (6) challenger Mayoral and (7) incumbent Mayoral. The following are verbatim copies of the questions sent out and the answers received.

Rogene Gee Calvert, Candidate for the Houston City Council at-large Position #3

Texpatriate: What is your name?
RC: Rogene Gee Calvert

T: What is your current occupation?
RC: Partner, Outreach Strategists, LLC, a public relations, strategic communications firm.

T: Have you run for or held public office before?
RC: No

T:  What is your political affiliation? We understand that City Council elections are nonpartisan, but this is a point many voters find important. If you are not comfortable currently identifying with a political party, what was the last Political Party’s primary election you voted in (a matter of public record)?
RC: Democrat

T: Open seats typically attract countless candidates. Why are you specifically running for this seat?
RC: I was born and raised in Houston and have seen it grow and change.  I am running for an At-Large City Council Seat so that I can represent the interests and concerns of the most diverse city in America.  I look forward to representing and serving a city with such a rich diversity of people and using my collaborative leadership style and coalition-building approach to bring all voices to the table so we can have a more effective government.  My greatest strength is my ability to bring people from diverse backgrounds and interests together to work towards common, mutually beneficial goals.  I have always believed in the multicultural greatness of our community, our city and our future.  I truly believe that my strong campaign and goals are dedicated to representing all Houstonians, regardless of who they are or how they came to be here. My slogan is Together for Houston – All of Houston.

T: Are you in contact with the incumbent Councilmember for this position? Would the two of you have a good relationship for a possible transition?
RC: Yes, Melissa Noriega and I are good friends.  She was among the first persons I spoke to before deciding to run. I also know her staff and have a good relationship with them. We would have a seamless transition.

T: What do you hope to get out of serving on the City Council?
RC: Having had the opportunity to work in City Council for 4 years as chief of staff for At-large Council member Gordon Quan from 2000-2004, I know how an at-large office should function and how Council relates to the Mayor’s Office.  I’ve also worked in the Mayor’s Office for 6 years under Mayor Bill White, who appointed me as his director of personnel and volunteer initiatives.  I’ve worked across the city with various neighborhood and civic groups, agencies and departments.  With this experience, I know I can “hit the ground running” on day one!  I also know that I will receive many rewards serving the people of this great City and especially making their lives better.  I want to preserve, promote and protect Houston by aggressively pursuing a coordinated vision of the City that includes better transportation options, better access to health and preventative care, and a mix of stronger economic incentives to assist small business in thriving in Houston.  With this said, I know there will also be many challenges, difficult decisions to make and sleepless nights seconding guessing and pondering  one’s actions.

T: What is an ordinance you would introduce in your next term?
RC: There are 3 areas I would seek the opportunity to create an ordinance:

1)      Changes in inter-governmental, local agreements to encourage and promote cooperation, collaboration and joint funding of services, programs and facilities to economize and reduce costs.

2)      Complete Streets Concept- specific policy goals will include a greater role for Complete Streets programming in our City’s transportation and infrastructure plans to make Houston friendly to all users of streets. This would speak directly to all policy areas by creating safer streets, better access for all residents, increasing mobility, and improving neighborhoods.

3)      Quality of life and neighborhood improvement/ development-Coordinating a comprehensive plan with input from citizens to coordinate various plans like housing, recreation, transportation, roads, etc. that affect a neighborhood.

T: Obviously, an officeholder strives to maintain a diverse core constituency and political base, but all candidates have interest groups they have been traditionally strong with and traditionally weak with, respectively. For you, what would be one example of each type of group?
RC: Groups who I have been traditionally strong with are progressive, forward looking and quality of life focused.  Groups I have traditionally been weak with are rigid in their mindset and extreme in their focus.

T: What has been the most important thing you have learned in your campaign?
RC: The most important thing I have learned in this campaign is not to take anything too personally.  In particular, when it comes to asking for support and donations, you will win a few and lose a few.

Mike Anderson, 1955-2013

Mike Anderson

The Houston Chronicle reports that the Harris County District Attorney, Mike Anderson, has died early this morning at the young age of 57. As you may remember, Anderson disclosed last May that he had cancer. It must have been very aggressive, and it is a shame, because Houston truly lost a legend among men.

Anderson, a former District Judge and prosecutor, defeated the previous District Attorney, Pat Lykos, in last year’s Republican primary. After his opponent was incompetent in ways only imaginable to the incompetency of Texas Democrats, Anderson got plenty of bipartisan support in the November election, including mine.

I was never really a fan of Anderson’s politics, but I did see plenty of glimmers of hope in the meantime. But whatever your ideology, today is a day to put aside partisanship and see Anderson for who he really was underneath all the politics. Anderson dedicated his life, whether that be as a Prosecutor or a Judge, to upholding the law and making sure justice always prevailed. Serving for many years as one of the big felony court prosecutors, Anderson spent his days putting the worst of the worst in jail–where they belong.

Anderson was a longtime contemporary and colleague of my father’s, and despite their political disagreements, he always believed Anderson was a man of tremendous integrity and a great public servant.

My thoughts and prayers go out to Anderson’s family, especially his young children. It is a heartbreaking day for those who knew him. While I feel absolutely terrible discussing the political implications at a time like this, it is worth noting that the vacancy in the DA’s office will be filled by a nominee of Governor Perry.

Off the Kuff and Life at the Harris County Criminal Justice Center have more.

My op-ed in ‘bAustin’

From my day job at The Justice:

When I flew home to Houston following my last final exam this past May, I do not remember if I even ate dinner before making the 160 mile trip to Austin, the state capital of Texas.

Over the next two days in Austin, I met with all the stalwarts of the Texas Democratic Party that I had known of for most of my life, and known personally for at least a year: State Representative Jessica Farrar, State Representative Senfronia Thompson, State Senator Leticia Van de Putte, State Senator Kirk Watson and, of course, State Senator Wendy Davis.

When I left school last spring, these individuals were foreign to most of the students here at Brandeis. However, upon my return this autumn, the heroes of Texas liberalism will have been household names. Make no mistake; this was not a fluke. This is a sign towards the future, of the upcoming, inevitable Democratic Texas.

On June 25, millions of people across the world became familiar with Democratic Texas State Senator Wendy Davis, among others, when she filibustered a draconian anti-abortion bill that, among other things, would have closed 37 of Texas’ 42 abortion clinics while enriching the business interests of the Governor’s sister. (The bill requires clinics to convert into ambulatory surgical centers, and the Governor’s sister is the chief lobbyist of the Texas Ambulatory Surgical Center Association). That fateful evening, between Davis’ 12 hour filibuster and the cheering from the gallery, the nation learned an invaluable lesson: liberals exist in Texas and, given the right opportunities, we can win. For even though Republicans later changed the rules to force another special session to pass the bill, the filibuster brought national attention to the measure, which will be sure to be struck down in Federal Court.

For most politically-active Texans, the filibuster of June 25 was not the first we had heard of the massively building resistance to the omnibus anti-abortion bill. In the previous weeks as committees debated the bill, thousands of women showed up to testify, driving hearings into the middle of the night before the chairmen—that’s not an oversight, they are exclusively men—abruptly stopped the proceedings and locked the witnesses out before voting on the people’s legislation behind closed doors.

Just two days earlier, when the state house debated the bill, Democrats used every parliamentary point of order and dilatory tactic at their disposal in an attempt to slow down the process and garner media attention. Democratic State Representative Senfronia Thompson, the first African-American woman to serve in the Texas Legislature, who has served since 1972, made statewide news at the time, as she held up a wire coat-hanger during her speech and warned that she did not want to go back to the Dark Ages.

Back in the state Senate, Democratic Senator Leticia Van de Putte arrived at the capitol with just an hour left before midnight during Davis’ filibuster. Van de Putte had been in San Antonio just that day attending her father’s funeral. Trying to make a point upon her arrival, she was repeatedly ignored by the Republican leadership, finally exclaiming, “At what point must a female senator raise her hand or her voice to be recognized over the male colleagues in the room.” At this point, the crowd in the gallery rose to their feet and yelled until midnight, and the rest, as they say, is history.

The entire spectacle brought Texas Democrats, foremost Wendy Davis, into the international spotlight. Democratic power brokers in Washington, D.C. and New York began calling for Davis to run for governor, calling her the best shot for the state’s future. However, liberals in Texas have been saying this for years, while the powers-to-be in the national Democratic establishment have completely ignored and neglected Texas Democrats. Given a chance, we can do great things.

Texas’ politics are trending towards the Democratic Party; it is only a matter of time at this point. Bellwethers like Bexar and Harris Counties mirror state demographics by combining urban areas (San Antonio and Houston, respectively) with less diverse suburban areas.

They have slowly been trending toward the Democratic Party for years, and the state is right behind them.

For example, Texas is one of only three states, along with California and New Mexico, to be less than 50 percent Caucasian. What is preventing my state’s sizable Hispanic minority from causing victory for the Democratic Party is a staggeringly low voter turnout. In fact, according to an article last February from The Dallas Morning News, out of every state, Texas ranks dead last in voter turnout.

When it does vote, the Hispanic population of Texas supports the Democratic Party by overwhelming margins. Despite being one of only three states with a Hispanic senator, barely one third of Texas Hispanics voted for the Republican Party last year. The only thing stopping Texas politics from mirroring New Mexico’s is turnout (38 percent higher in 2010), something national organizations such as Battleground Texas have now begun to focus on. This national spotlight and financial backing of Democratic candidates has only drastically expanded following Davis’ filibuster and will swell turnout in the state until Texas mirrors New Mexico’s politics. Texans are ready for this metamorphosis; the only outstanding question is if the national establishment is ready.

So make no mistake: Wendy Davis, Leticia Van de Putte and Senfronia Thompson are not lonely outliers. They are the future of Texas.

Federal Benefits for the Married

The Washington Post reports that the Internal Revenue Service has amended their policy on who is deemed “legally married.” Jack Lew, the United States Treasury Secretary, that the IRS would allow legally married same-sex couples to file joint tax returns, regardless of where they live.

I am immediately reminded of what I wrote on the topic back in June when the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act:

This all seems simple enough, except it has some profound implications for the entire country, including this State. If a couple, legally married in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, moves to Texas, may they continue filing joint income tax returns? Will the Federal Government continue recognizing them as married even though their new State does not? These are questions for future litigation.

In a further move, NBC News reports that, just today, that a Federal Judge has ordered the Department of Veterans’ Affairs to begin offering full military benefits to the legally married same-sex spouses of servicemembers. Now, in this case, the plaintiffs lived in California, so there is still no precedent for if the couple moves to a State with a regressive definition of marriage.

That being said, the joint tax-returns policy is a landmark for the inevitable road towards full legal equality for gays & lesbians. What this news means, simply put, is that a Texas same-sex couple who travels to New Mexico and gets married may return home and receive some Federal benefits for being married. One of the next major steps will be joint Bankruptcy petitions (Taxes, Bankruptcy, it seems that to call them “benefits” is somewhat of a misnomer). The big prize will be pensions and survivor benefits/healthcare to the spouses of Federal employees.



Van de Putte open to Statewide run

The Dallas Morning News reports that State Senator Leticia Van de Putte (D-San Antonio) is open to the idea of running for Lieutenant Governor. Van de Putte shot to international stardom last June during the Wendy Davis filibuster. With only about ten minutes left to go until midnight, Van de Putte asked a parliamentary inquiry: “At what point must a female senator raise her hand or her voice to be recognized over her male colleagues?” It was at this point that the crowd in the gallery went to their feet, started shouting and the rest is history.

Anyways, Van de Putte has now become a favorite candidate of Texas Democrats looking towards the future (specifically, the 2014 election). Van de Putte is an extraordinarily attractive for the Democrats because she is not defending her Senate seat in 2014. Therefore, unlike Wendy Davis, she could run for Statewide office next year, lose and show up for work in Austin like normal at the start of the next Legislative session.

“I’m not ruling it out, but right now I’m holding off on considering it until Wendy decides what she’s going to do,” Van de Putte said. “I’ll wait until then to consider how I can make the state more competitive.”

The article from the Morning News also mentioned four other possible candidates for next year’s Democratic Party: State Representative Rafael Anchia, State Representative Trey Martinez Fischer, State Representative Mike Villarreal and State Senator Royce West. However, this is some lazy reporting on the Morning News’ part unless they have some privileged information I am not aware to. Anchia is running for re-election, as is Villarreal.  Senator West is an interesting name to throw into the mix, though that may just be the Dallas bias in the article. Martinez Fischer, on the other hand, is frequently mentioned. I think both would make good candidates.

Either way, all of these candidates will be waiting on Wendy Davis’ big announcement. Davis, for her part, was supposed to make her big decision in the next few days, but delayed such a decision on account of her ailing father. Everything will become clear soon enough.

‘Phony Scandal’ picked up by Chronicle

Ok, perhaps I should stop calling it that.

Mike Morris at the Houston Chronicle wrote the cover story this morning about the Mayor’s allegedly unethical pay raises given to senior staffers in her first few years of office. As the astute will recall, KRIV had been drumming up this issue about three weeks ago, as I noted on three occasions.

The KRIV story alleged that these pay hikes occurred between 2009 and 2011. Of course, Annise Parker did not become Mayor until January 2010. I attempted to bring this to the attention of KRIV, thinking they may have made an honest mistake, but was rebuffed as they doubled down on the story. At that point, I dismissed the “phony scandal” as being untrue, because if the only two years compared were 2009 and 2011, it is comparison of salaries in the City Controller’s office and Mayor’s office, respectively.

However, Morris’ articles notes this, as the Chronicle does the due diligence required, and notes the differences between 2010 and the present. Raises still occurred, but they were far less severe than KRIV had insinuated.

For example, KRIV alleges that Parker’s Communications Director received a 68% raise, while the Chronicle places the number at 31%. Similarly, KRIV alleges a whopping 147% raise for Parker’s Finance Director, while Morris thinks 29% is a more accurate salary bump.

In fact, besides Waynette Chan, the Mayor’s Chief of Staff, who both KRIV and the Chronicle place the alleged pay hike at 46% for, the Chronicle notes that most of these hikes were not all that extravagant, especially for senior staff.

Further, Morris goes on to note how, as Houston left the recession, most City workers received modest, but noteworthy, pay raises. It is also worth noting that the furloughs have long since ended, and that many –if not most– of the laid off workers have been rehired by the City. As Morris goes on:

City payroll data show that during Parker’s tenure, 22,357 city workers got at least one contractual raise. Those raises averaged 5 percent, with the amounts varying between the municipal, fire and police unions. For the 12,993 employees who also received a salary adjustment, promotion or merit raise – or some combination of those – the average overall raise was 11 percent.

Morris then goes on to note that both Ben Hall and the Firefighter’s Union, both with a vested interest to take down Parker by any means necessary, harshly criticized the Mayor for this issue. However, as the Chronicle continued in its pattern of due diligence for the day, Morris talks to all the other stakeholders in the matter, including the HPD Union, HOPE, the local AFL-CIO, as well as both prominent Democratic and Republican consultants:

Ray Hunt, president of the Houston Police Officers Union, which has endorsed Parker, said the mayor’s staff salaries give him no heartburn.

“Anybody who got laid off during that year, I’m sure they’re very, very upset about it, and understandably so, but when you have a downturn in the economy and you’re trying to turn things around, you better keep your key people in those positions and you’re going to have to compensate them what you believe they’re worth,” Hunt said. “I personally am not concerned about the salaries of the top administrators in the city of Houston. I don’t think any of them are out of line with the private sector.”

Melvin Hughes, head of the municipal employees union, declined comment.

Richard Shaw, of the Harris County AFL-CIO, said the raises do not disturb him because the mayor now negotiates pay agreements with all three unions.

“As far as I’m concerned, she bargains in good faith with all employee groups and, from a labor standpoint, that’s what we ask for,” Shaw said. “The firefighters need to quit whining. They didn’t take any hits on layoffs. They negotiated that pay agreement with the mayor.”

GOP communications consultant Jim McGrath said the issue will be little more than water-cooler fodder at City Hall unless Hall can show a pattern of such decisions.

“Taxpayers and voters care about their well-being and their future and if the mayor has failed in some regard as it relates to that, that’s something you can get traction with,” McGrath said. “This inside baseball stuff will not fundamentally alter the dynamics of a race that isn’t looking good for Mr. Hall at present.”

Democratic political consultant Mustafa Tameez agreed: “This is not going to be seen well by the public, but something like this doesn’t make or break the election.”

As far as I’m concerned, I agree with them. I worked at City Hall amid all of the layoffs and the furloughs, and probably would be legitimately angered if the Mayor was indeed awarding these extravagant raises, but she wasn’t.

The average City Employee took in about an 11% raise. Of the 11 members of Parker’s ‘senior staff’ mentioned by Morris, five receive pay hikes over 11%, while six receive hikes equal or below 11%. There really isn’t a scandal here, and Morris & the Chronicle did a really good job at explaining why–right down to the headline.

Now that a reputable source has repudiated KRIV’s story, I wonder what Greg Groogan’s –the “journalist” who published this nonsense at KRIV to begin with– next move will be. I wonder if he’ll keep doubling down on it.