Pardon the brief interregnum, I have spent the entire weekend moving into a new apartment in Austin. I am returning tomorrow (Sunday) back to Houston for one last week home, before shipping up for yet another semester of college. Color me content.
The biggest local news that has transpired within this time has been an important update on Houston’s recent non-discrimination ordinance, now casually known as HERO (Houston Equal Rights Ordinance). As I noted last week, a State District Judge (Jeff Shadwick) put a temporary restraining order on the law as a part of ongoing litigation over a recall effort. At the heart of the issue is whether opponents of the law compiled enough legally usable signatures to force a referendum on the matter. In recent days, considerably urgency has been placed upon this issue, given that many wanted a vote from Houstonians this November. Strangely enough, at least publicly, this appeared to be the outcome both sides wanted. While Mayor Annise Parker decided opponents were insufficient in their recall efforts, opponents have sought an injunction from the courts.
While Shadwick (a Republican) conducted the ancillary hearing on the TRO, the full hearing was in the court of State District Judge Robert Schaffer (a Democrat). He pointedly refused to issue the injunction sought by opponents, just as the 14th Court of Appeals declined to certify the referendum petitions. The end result, which both sides claimed as a victory, was that a longer hearing will take place in January of 2015. The non-discrimination ordinance will not be on November’s ballot.
The astute will surely know I am a wholehearted supporter of the NDO, notwithstanding the countless problems I had with its roll-out. The law itself protects against discrimination in all forms, including against the LGBT community. Individual complaints with the ordinance such as the asinine “men in the women’s restroom” fable are especially troubling. The bathroom is one of the easiest references to stir trouble and brew fear. It happened with the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s and Sissy Farenthold even recently told me that it happened in the 1950s to keep women out of jury pools. For some reason, the mixing of the sexes in a restroom is a cardinal sin like no other, but I digress.
My longwinded point here is that the NDO will not be enforced between now and January, at least. How in the world is that a win for supporters? All the discrimination going on in this city will either continue with impunity or lack an efficient and cheap mode of recourse at City Hall.
Furthermore, if this comes up for a referendum in 2015, it will almost certainly go down in flames. Let me repeat, if the City is eventually forced to certify the repeal petitions, the NDO is dead. The best chance to beat back a referendum would have been this November, when I would have said a perilously close election occurred. The thing about midterm elections such as this year’s is that 40% of the population already votes, which already counts every tried-and-true socially conservative voice out there. However, in next year’s Mayoral election, turnout will likely be about 15%, while a freestanding election in May would probably only garner turnout in the single digits. As a general rule, the smaller the electorate, the whiter and more conservative it is. Furthermore, a small voting pool would allow for the ordinance’s opponents to flood the pools with their dedicated supporters in a way that proponents simply would not.
Additionally, if everything goes to heck, the worst case scenario this November is not nearly as bad as the worst-case next November. If the ordinance is overturned on a referendum any time, it would be an egregious miscarriage of justice that this city would wear as a scarlet letter for many years to come. But that would be the extent of the damage this November, because progressive causes are almost certain to get a shellacking in three months anyways. The Democrats literally cannot win any fewer offices in Harris County, for example, this year than they did in 2010.
But in 2015, a radically more socially conservative electorate could have a damaging effect upon not only the Mayor’s race, but Council races as well. Be careful what you wish for, indeed.