TPA Person of the Year

Editorial Note: While Texpatriate belongs to the Texas Progressive Alliance, the decisions of the alliance are made by individual members rather than the blogs themselves. Noah M. Horwitz is an individual member, who participated in and concurred to this decision, but no others members of Texpatriate participated. Accordingly, the views expressed are not necessarily those of a majority of the Editorial Board.

The Texas Progressive Alliance, the nation’s largest state-based association of online and netroots activists, today named State Senator Wendy Davis recipient of its Texan of the Year Award for 2013.

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2013 Year in Review

The year started out somewhat softly, and was highlighted by Barack Obama’s second inauguration. The State Legislature initially convened a member short, following the death of Mario Gallegos the previous year. After a competitive and increasingly brutal special election campaign, Sylvia Garcia was elected to the State Senate. The Legislature debated a plethora of diverse issues, and came up with novel and bold solutions for most of these. Meanwhile, the lead-up to the Houston municipal elections began with former City Attorney Ben Hall mounting an ostensibly high-profile challenge against Mayor Annise Parker. By the end of the regular Legislative session in May, members had passed a comprehensive Education reform bill targeting curriculum and standardized tests as well as a bill to spend over $2Billion on Water projects. Shortly after the end of the session, Governor Perry called back legislators for a special session on redistricting, criminal justice, transportation and abortion. The session quickly rubber-stamped the redistricting maps, but the rest of legislation was put on hold after Democrats successfully used every dilatory tactic at their disposal to prevent a bill regulating abortion clinics (and effectively closing most of them) from being finally considered before the end of the session. These tactics included a 13-hour filibuster by State Senator Wendy Davis that transformed her into an international sensation. A second (and later third) session was later called to pass all these measures, and resulted in the Legislature being in session throughout the summer. By the autumn, City of Houston elections had heated up considerably amidst conflict over the quantity of debates or candidate forums. Meanwhile, Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson announced his retirement and was replaced by Nathan Hecht. In November, Mayor Annise Parker and City Controller Ronald Green were both re-elected by wide margins, as did most members of the City Council. After being reelected, a newly emboldened Parker announced her support for progressive causes such as Wage theft regulation, same-sex benefits and Payday lending reform. The slates for statewide offices, including the Democratic Party, also formed around this time, with Wendy Davis running for Governor and Leticia Van de Putte running for Lieutenant Governor. Also, at the time of the filing deadline, Justice Larry Meyers announced a party switch to the Democrats, letting the party effectively claim a statewide post for the first time in nearly 15 years. Steve Stockman, a local Congressman, also announced a right-wing challenge to Senator John Cornyn. At the time of Houston runoff elections, more progressive candidates were elected, including a pair of challengers that defeated Helena Brown and Andrew Burks, respectively.

Texpatriate also remembers those who have passed away in the past year, including Gaynelle Jones, Raymond Telles, Jack Hightower, Mike Anderson, Leonel Castillo, Reuben Senterfitt and Nelson Mandela.

Wishing you a safe and happy New Year’s eve and a prosperous 2014!

Davis and Payday lending

The El Paso Times continues reporting on a controversy that has been brewing now for a number of days. First, the Times reported last Sunday that the Chairman of the Texas Finance Commission, as well as the Consumer Credit Commissioner, a man named William J. White, has extensive ties to the payday lending industry. Specifically, he is the Vice-President of Cash America, one of the largest payday lending chains. This type of cronyism, of course, is not an especially new move for someone affiliated with the Perry administration, but I digress.

The Times approached White a few weeks ago to talk about the possible conflict, and received nothing but abrasive and laconic retorts from the Commissioner. The article then went on to discuss the many excesses of payday lending and its sometimes usurious tendencies. Sagacious followers of Texpatriate will be very familiar with those excesses, so I will not discuss them here. Otherwise, read the article (it’s quite good).

Click here to read more!

In re HOV lanes

The Houston Chronicle reports that toll prices in HOV/HOT lanes will be increasing, sometimes almost fourfold, in response to growing congestion in the system. The lanes, which are still primarily for cars with multiple occupants, have been opened to solo drivers for nearly two years, provided they pay a toll. However, with countless solo drivers now taking to the lanes, METRO decided to raise prices substantially in order to discourage the solo drivers during peak hours.

For example, US59/I-69 northbound will see its early morning tolls increase from $2.25 to $4.50, while the same highway southbound will see an even larger markup from $2.00 to $6.50. I-45 and US290 will raise their prices 350%, from $2.00 to $7.00. I simply cannot fathom paying that much money in tolls every day on the commute to work.

However, and I cannot stress this enough, HOV lanes are a privilege and not an entitlement to solo drivers. Their primary purpose is for carpools, not for rich people. In fact, there is an argument to be made that solo drivers should never be allowed in the HOV lane, though I think METRO would disagree since they have made a handsome profit off of the entire ordeal.

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Pidgeon case moved to Federal Court

Texpatriate has learned that the case of Pidgeon v. Parker, in which local Republican sued to block a recent City policy that extends full spousal benefits to same-sex spouses of municipal employees, has been removed to a Federal Court. The case, which was initially filed in a local Family District Court, resulted in the granting of a temporary restraining order by a Republican Judge (Lisa Millard), blocking the enforcement of the measure until a hearing next month. This meant couples that had already signed up under the new policy would be out of luck, prompting one such couple to sue the City of Houston in Federal Court themselves.

The Pidgeon case’s initial complaint dealt with Mayor Parker allegedly violating the Texas Constitution, Texas Family Code and the Houston City Charter. Thus, its placement in the Family District Court, as opposed to a Civil District Court that typically deals with constitutional complaints. City Attorney David Feldman has now responded by filing a notice of removal to place the case in Federal Court since it deals with substantial federal questions, including guarantees of equal protection and due process. Parker and Feldman first extended the aforementioned spousal benefits in response to the US Supreme Court’s decision invalidating the Defense of Marriage Act.

Click here to read more about the implications of this lawsuit!

Civil Affairs: Texan exceptionalism


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If you have followed Texpatriate or my other Civil Affairs columns for any considerable length of time, you have probably responded to one of my opinions with a dismissive “he’s full of crap,” while simultaneously rolling your eyes. But more times than not, my opinions lay nominally to the left of the center. I say this because, while many throughout Texas might consider my views left-wing, no one would ever dare affix that label to me –the scarlet ‘L’– when I lived in Boston. Of course, Massachusetts voted for Obama, and so did I (given the alternatives, I am still unapologetic about that), meaning that I probably should have been happy to stay up in the northeast. Originally, that was the plan.

There is an old Yiddish proverb that when man makes a plan, God laughs. I started writing Texpatriate my third day at Brandeis, people kept reading, I kept writing, we welcomed newcomers and the rest is history. However, a recurring question that I keep finding myself answering at myriad Christmas parties is why I specifically enjoy what happens, here in Houston, or on a Statewide level, more than the ostensibly exciting horse-race of national politics or what goes on in Boston (the City did have a competitive Mayoral election this year). The answer to that question, I have found, has very little to do with my partisan affiliation and much more with the type of person I am.

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Texpatriate’s 2013 Person of the Year

Nearly one month ago, this board began its search for Texpatriate‘s Person of the Year. Our rules were somewhat simple. The individual who contributed the most (good or bad) to both Texas and Houston politics would win the contest. However, upon closer scrutiny, this formula is not so simple. Often times our biases will blind us as to what the unadulterated facts right in front of us are, and will deceive us into believing something untrue. This board finds no greater example than with Ted Cruz. We believe that, speaking strictly to Texas affairs, Sen. Cruz has made far and away the most news in the State; much, much more than Wendy Davis. A majority of this board dislikes his political views, and we are certain that most of our readers have similar reservations, but there is no denying his tremendous impact upon the way things get done, not only in Texas, but around the country.

Sadly for Sen. Cruz, however, our criteria includes more than just what happens in Statewide or national news. Alternatively, we look for the individual who affects both the politics and governance of Houston and the State of Texas. To fit such a bill, this board can think of no individual better suited than Annise Parker. While we originally bestowed this honor on the Mayor before (in 2009), we believe she may be even more deserving here and now. Forget about being reelected –every Mayor gets reelected and Parker had notoriously incompetent opposition this year– and focus instead on Mayor Parker’s leadership both on the City Council and out in the field with Houston. Indeed, as far as credible Statewide candidates exist for the Texas Democrats, this board suggests they look no further than Mayor Parker.

Click here to read the rest of the editorial!

Mayor Parker gets engaged

Texpatriate has learned that Mayor Annise Parker will marry her longtime partner next month in California. Parker, who has long definitively stated that she planned on getting hitched only when Texas legalized gay marriage, reportedly altered her tune in recent days.

Mayor Parker has been together with her partner, Kathy Hubbard, for over 20 years and the duo has now raised three adoptive children. Back in August, when CNN covered the Mayoral race, they quoted the Mayor saying that she wants to get married “in her City.” However, a recent Houston Chronicle article on this topic notes that she may have changed her mind somewhat substantially in light of the recent transitions.

The wedding will be held in “mid-January” in Palm Springs, California. We will report more when we receive additional information.

Freeman sues City of Houston

KPRC reports that a local couple has sued the City of Houston after their full spousal benefits have been revoked. As the astute may recall, last month Mayor Parker announced that all legally married couples (includes those of the same-sex) could provide full spousal benefits from the City if one member of the couple worked for the municipality. Only three couples initially signed up for these benefits, including Noel Freeman (a City employee) and Brad Pritchett. Many will probably remember Freeman, the President of the Houston GLBT Caucus and previous candidate for the City Council, and Pritchett, an official with the Harris County Democratic Party. Shortly thereafter, officials with the Harris County GOP sued the City of Houston in attempt to enjoin the offering of these benefits; they were successful in obtaining a temporary restraining order to this effect until mid-January.

Accordingly, even though Freeman and others had begun paying the City higher premiums to ensure their lawfully wedded spouses had received the benefits, these benefits had been stopped indefinitely. In response to this injustice, the couple (as well as two others) has sued the City of Houston in Federal Court over being deprived of the equal protection and due process. As the Channel 2 article notes, the original suit that prompted the TRO will come up for full oral arguments in January.

Click here to read more about the implications of this lawsuit!