Proposed charter changes

Texpatriate has learned that the Houston City Council’s ad hoc “charter review committee” has assembled a memorandum of four proposed rule changes to the city’s constitution-like document and plans on holding a public hearing on the matter. On December 4th at 1:00 PM, a week from tomorrow, the council will hold a public hearing on these four proposals, which I will delineate below. Additionally, to call it a “committee” is a misnomer, as the whole council sits on this special group. Mayor Pro Tem Ed Gonzalez (D-District H) will preside.

The four proposals were initially suggested by City Councilmember C.O. Bradford (D-At Large 4). They are eliminating the so-called “revenue cap” for local property taxes, allowing for secret sessions of the council, modifying term limits and allowing a coalition of at least six councilmembers to add agenda items. Personally, I think the first and the last proposals are slam dunks that should be ratified, but the second and the third should prompt fuller and more robust discussion.

Talk of cleaning up the city’s charter has been abound for the last couple of months, but rather than simple housekeeping measures, these proposals tend to focus on more divisive, political disputes. That’s not to say these are not important topics to consider, but it must be done slower and with more scrutiny than, say, neutral cleanup measures.

The first suggestion, the revenue cap, is something that most astute followers of local politics concede is a silly and ill-conceived roadblock to municipal development. Back in 2004, as Charles Kuffner has noted, voters approved an asinine measure that limited increases of property tax revenue to the combined rate of population and inflation. However, this failed to take account of the possibility of rapidly increasing property values down the road, as has occurred in the last few years in Houston. Thus, next year, Houston will face a large shortfall, arguably larger than during the economic downturn. Mayor Annise Parker has supported nixing this cap, as have many member of the council. Furthermore, some mayoral candidates — including, most notably, former Congressman Chris Bell — have also opined against the cap. Kuffner has even gone so far as to claim he would withhold support from any 2015 mayoral candidate unless he or she backed the cap’s removal.

As for the second proposal, I have mixed views on the prospect of closed-door sessions of the council. As I have previously mentioned, such a proposal — in my view — runs counter to the Texas Open Meetings Act, and just rubs me the wrong way. I understand that some meetings involve touchy subject matters, but it sets a dangerous precedent to move the machinery of government behind closed doors.

With the third proposal, I similarly find myself uneasy. Like Kuffner, I am more-or-less an opponent of term limits for legislative offices (though I’m fine with them for executive positions). But this topic is not about the underlying validity of term limits; the main point of contention is the length of individual terms. While those terms for council, City Controller and mayor are currently at two years, the proposal would augment it to four years.

I really don’t like increasing the amount of time in between which politicians are held accountable by their constituents. I fully empathize with the concerns over excessive campaigning and stress, but those concerns are far outweighed by the need for citizens to control representatives in government. Certain one-term councilmembers of yesteryear demonstrate that somewhat well.

Last, but certainly not least, is a proposal to allow a coalition of at least six councilmembers to add agenda items in meetings. Currently, only the mayor has the ability. Upon first glance, I like this idea, as it allows the despotism of the chief executive to be removed in favor of a more inclusive cross-section of the community. That being said, Parker has largely lost my confidence in being a unifying leader, so it is within the realm of possibility that my point of view could change when presented with a new, more unifying, mayor.

What do you think of the proposals?

New 2016 tidbits

During the summer, I wrote up a fairly lengthy analysis of 2016 Presidential candidates, both Democrat and Republican. Since that time, one Democrat — Jim Webb — has unofficially thrown his hat into the ring by forming an exploratory committee, a formality that always precedes an official announcement. Meanwhile, a Republican — Ben Carson — looks all but certain to make some type of official announcement in coming days. Neither, in my opinion, will make much of a difference, but it is fun to analyze them anyways.

First, as The Washington Post reports, former Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) looks to be the first major contender. Webb is a ferociously moderate Democrat, the epitome of so-called “blue dog” values. A longtime military officer, his service culminated with him being the Secretary of the Navy during the Reagan administration. He thereafter served one term in the Senate from Virginia, from 2007 to 2013. He declined to stand for re-election because, as he put it, he hated Washington and its dysfunction. Historically, he has also been a somewhat harsh critic of President Barack Obama, both deriding Obamacare and lambasting the president’s general use of executive power.

Now, I’m surely not the most obsequious fan of Obama, notwithstanding my recent adulation. I think, given his horrendous unpopularity, that the Democrats would not be all that misguided to look toward a candidate not afraid of criticizing ‘the anointed one,’ so to speak. I think former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the definitive Democratic (if not general election) frontrunner, is playing a somewhat safe middle ground by not complimenting or criticizing Obama too heavily. From a policy point of view, I don’t find anything wrong with Webb. He almost reminds me of a modern-day Jimmy Carter. But America, politically speaking, has gotten far dumber — and far less open minded –since the days of the the peanut farmer from Georgia. The media crowns winners years in advance now in the dichotomous, “four legs good, two legs bad” dystopia that we currently live in. Even though I would still venture to say that Clinton is the better candidate because of both policy and, especially, general election standing, her political future has been written years in advance as practically an inevitability.

Second, with Bloomberg Politics doing the honors, Ben Carson has all-but-officially-announced his intent to seek the Republican nomination for president. A brilliant surgeon, Carson’s intellectual prowess does not appear to extend to the political arena, where he bumbles from one conspiracy theory to the next. In addition to having no political experience whatsoever, Carson appears more than willing to cater to the lowest common denominator. I believe he recently suggested he would literally live in some type of socialist autocracy by 2016, if my memory serves me right. If he’s campaigning for a seat on a Fox News talk show, right on. But if he’s serious about the presidency, we should insist he move along.

Otherwise, there are plenty of the same Republican names flirting with the issues as there were in the summer. A few new names include Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who does not have much of a base to prop him up. Additionally, although he hasn’t made official comments one way or another, Governor John Kasich (R-OH) is starting to cause more of a buzz. A pragmatic Republican, he has developed a penchant for moderation, and has received a generous pour of positive press since his landslide re-election.

But perhaps the most significant point I wish to discuss tonight is what I feel is the growing momentum around the inevitable campaign of Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX). All other things being equal, I think he would win a Republican primary held today. Perhaps more importantly, I think he would also defeat Clinton in a general election.

Cruz is brilliant and articulate. Those with little exposure to him generally like what they see, and he would be sure to extend this mindset to the campaign trail. And while, nationally, his identification is generally negative, the vast majority of Americans do not know who he is. If, for example, I walked around West Campus in Austin, the setting of my apartment, and stopped the first 10 people I spotted, I doubt more than five would be aware of the existence of our state’s junior senator. This, at ostensibly the best pubic institution of higher learning in the state. Transport me to a state outside of Texas, and I’d postulate the number drops to three. For most Americans, including most who will vote in the 2016 election, their first exposure to Cruz will be after he would lock up the Republican nomination.

This is where what I call Cruz’s “Obama resemblance” becomes so important. Throughout the summer, I highlighted what I found to be a similarity. While many other pundits have made the Cruz-Obama connection, including my contemporary Erica Greider in Politico, these profiles have all focused on the duo’s lack of experience (less than one full term in the Senate). However, rather than experience, Cruz’s reminiscence to Obama is his cult-like popularity among his party’s base, and how it provides a uniquely strong transition from primary to general election mode for a presidential candidate.

Throughout the 2008 primaries, and even continuing into recent times, Obama has enjoyed almost a messianic popularity among the most diehard Democrats, the ones who vote in all the primaries. I lamented this fact in The Brandeis Justice last year. Similarly, Cruz looks like he is the holy one among Tea Party Republicans, the exact type who will hand him decisive victories in the Iowa Caucuses and South Carolina Primary, both of which will help propel him to victory in the Republican primaries. I have noted many times that Clinton’s weakness in 2008 was her record of centrism on many important issues. Democrats, fed up with perceived moderation in their party, flocked to the charismatic young guy who told them exactly what they wanted to hear; never mind that he was lying. Thus, Obama talked out of both sides of his mouth, appealing to his base with one breath and the general electorate with the other. Expect Cruz to do the same.

And Cruz, more than any Democrat could ever get away with it, sure does love to lie. Take, for example, is recent bout with the Net Neutrality issue. The gist of it is that internet service providers should — as they always have — treat all online data equally; that is, not intentionally slow down specific sites or applications (read: those who do not pay more).  The Oatmeal has a rather good illustration on all this. Cruz has ridiculously claimed that Obama wants to strictly regulate the internet, and even tax it, both of which are just baldfaced lies. But he keeps on lying anyway, and is rather good at it. Given the feckless, impotent nature of the media, people will eventually come to believe him and heed his words.

Democrats will largely be complacent with Clinton atop the ticket. More reassuring, demographics and tradition are on their side. But Cruz will, in what I have to think of as the more likely scenario, win by a squeaker.

Give us your tired, your poor

Statue_of_Liberty_-_New_York_Harbor_-_21_Sept._2012_-_(1)

The New York Times reports that President Barack Obama, impatient waiting for Congressional action on comprehensive immigration reform, has gone out on his own to address the issue unilaterally in any way he can. By executive order, he will temporarily shield roughly four million of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States through the use of prosecutorial discretion, a valid exercise of the executive branch’s constitutional authority. The criteria used will protect those immigrants who are the parents of American citizens, meaning that their child was born in this country, even if the parents entered the country illegally. Additionally, the Times prognosticates that about one million more such immigrants will  be saved by the elimination of the so-called “Secure Communities Program,” which mandates local law enforcement agencies must check immigration status of all those arrested and accused of crimes.

The secure communities program, in particular, has been a pet peeve of mine. When I worked at City Hall, I debated my colleagues on municipal television arguing against the validity of its predecessor, known only as 287-g. In a recent editorial for The Daily Texan, it was described as “Orwellian,” a “brazen violation of due process” and a continuation of the “criminalization of immigrants” as the editorial board opined for its abolition. Basically, this part of the proposal took me by surprise, in a good way. The Times notes, rather stuffed away in the middle of their writeup, that “Local police will no longer be asked routinely to detain immigrants without papers.” That is a rather huge point.

As for those with citizen children, the roughly four million undocumented immigrants protected under the crux of the plan, the mechanisms are rather simple. They must pay back taxes, pass a background check and register with the Federal Government, but after that time, they can “come out of the shadows,” as Obama put it. Complete with Social Security Cards and everything. However, without congressional approval, there is no way that these individuals may be on a pathway to citizenship.

Finally, the actions expand Obama’s previous mark on the immigration program, the Deferred Actions for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), first implemented in 2012, which allowed for individuals brought into this country illegally as children to similarly be shielded from deportation. Under the new standards, anyone brought over illegally before 2010, as opposed to 2007, may be covered. Additionally, there would be no requirement that applicants be below a certain age anymore.

As expected, these actions enraged the Republican Party, which has been quick to castigate Obama as some type of malevolent dictator. This, despite that, as an editorial from The New York Times put it, “Presidential precedent, the law and Supreme Court affirmation all favor Mr. Obama” in his fight against Republicans. Simply put, the Times is right, as a plethora of Presidents, including Ronald Reagan, were all too eager to use presidential decrees for similar purposes.

However, as the Texas Tribune reports, Governor-elect Greg Abbott, who until next January will also serve as Attorney General, has sued the Federal Government anyway over the matter. However, as the Tribune notes when interviewing constitutional scholars on the topic, Abbott’s suit is largely frivolous and — whether or not you like the politics behind it — Obama’s actions are well within his legal rights.

All in all, I am quite supportive of Obama’s actions. They are the right thing to do, they will have profound impacts on the day-to-day lives of millions and they represent an audacious action on the part of the president. That three-part cocktail has been nonexistent throughout Obama’s tenure, as he has largely opted instead of the safer options that don’t rile people up.

When Republicans assume control of the US Senate in January, the 114th Congress will — not doubt — redouble its efforts to block Obama’s actions. He repeatedly noted throughout his remarks that Congress should, in his words, “pass a bill.” They most definitely will, but it won’t be one that he likes. They will pass a bill that seeks to undo all his actions, in a unified way, ending Obama’s argument that he is acting alone because Congress is dysfunctional.

History shows us that Obama will capitulate and fold like a cheap card table when that happens, and will likely largely reverse his program in some desperate effort to reach a compromise with Republicans. Contrarily, I strongly urge that he would push back nonetheless. Opinion polls show the public divided over Obama’s specific actions, but when polled in the abstract about the ideas, they are overwhelmingly popular. When push comes to shove, so to speak, Obama needs to appeal directly to the American people. If he sticks to his guns and doesn’t waffle, they just might have his back.

This is a nation of immigrants, as Obama also repeatedly mentioned in his speech. Now, I have fairly radical libertarian views on immigration, which may or may not include the phrase “open borders,” but I recognize that most others do not share my sentiment. Simply put, a continued influx of people who are eager to assimilate would be a godsend to any other practically any other developed country in the world. The United States, much like Europe or east Asia, faces a precipitously dropping birth rate. We would be condemned to the demographic disaster these other regions are facing, if not for our ever-expansive pool of prospective immigrants. And because this nation ascribes to the melting pot ideal, E Pluribius Unum, immigrants’ children mostly become completely  assimilated members of society. This, in addition to the principle of birthright citizenship enshrined in the 14th Amendment (jus soli), sets us apart so much from the rest of the world, and it allows immigration to really be something with few drawbacks.

No families nefariously scheme about crossing the desert and sneaking past border guards because they don’t want to pay taxes. It’s because our legal immigration system is broken, something individuals on both sides of the aisle will freely stipulate. If you want to be Americans, and you have the means to provide for yourself once you enter, this country should welcome you with open arms.

As the statue of liberty says on its plaque, an homage to the poet Emma Lazarus, “Give us your tired, your poor, your huddle masses yearning to breathe free. The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, the tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

Is Ben Hall running as a joke?

The Houston Chronicle reports that former City Attorney Ben Hall, who recently announced his intent to run for Mayor yet again, has released his second radio ad, nearly a full year ahead of the election. The ad features fictional characters, named “The Harrison’s,” debating Houston politics and lamenting Hall’s previous untruths, complete with a jingle and everything. I’m serious.

The 60-second spot, which you can find at this link, features a fictional African-American couple, initially complaining about the end of this most recent election, debating the merits of Hall’s second candidacy. The husband, later identified as George Harrison, thinks he sounds “so sincere” this time, but his wife, Christine Harrison, made a point of noting Hall’s dishonesty in the most recent election. She brings up his broken promise on holding community meetings. Then, the ad just throws a bunch of stuff at the wall and hopes some of it sticks. Specifically, Mr Harrison makes a point of bringing up “Subpoena-gate,” when Mayor Annise Parker’s administration foolishly tried to subpoena sermons by anti-LGBT clergy as part of the discovery process in the lawsuit against the non-discrimination ordinance.

I don’t even know where to begin with this one. Perhaps Hall thinks that humility could be an asset, but it just doesn’t work like that. Just ask Jerry Springer how well admitting your mistakes work. Generally speaking, if you make up fictional characters in a commercial, your level of support among them should be just about unanimous. Not 50%. Like his myriad of campaign blunders the last time around, Hall appears to just micromanaging his campaign away from any semblance of logic and reason.

Perhaps even more than the last time around, Hall appears willing to spend a considerable sum of money on his delusional dream of getting elected Mayor. I think it’s safe to say that he will never, ever be the Mayor, which begs the question as to why he is trying so hard. I suppose he could be testing the waters rather hard now, so that he could abort his candidacy by the spring if things do not appear to be causing much traction. But that’s just my guess.

The significantly more problematic side effect of Hall’s candidacy could be playing spoiler to the candidacy of State Representative Sylvester Turner (D-Harris County). Hall could arguably split the African-American support with Turner. And while Turner, the arguable frontrunner of the race, has a rather broad coalition, he could rely greatly on that demographic if his intention is to win next November without a runoff.

What do you think of Hall’s new ad?

The Speaker’s race that wasn’t

State Representative Joe Straus (R-Bexar County), the Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives, is a dying breed. A comparably moderate Republican, he runs the chamber based on the consent of its members (a novel concept). Instead of groveling to the whims and caprices of the majority of the majority, like Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) or soon-to-be-former Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV)  in Congress, Straus actually gives a voice to all proposals with majority backing. Often times, these are red-meat conservative proposals, like solving the non-existent problems of voter fraud and unsafe abortion clinics, but they have sometimes been realistic and sensible ideas to solve the state’s problem.

Straus, of course, came to power by aligning himself with the Democratic caucus, and has remained in office largely through their toleration. In 2009, after three disastrously controversial sessions under the stewardship of Speaker Tom Craddick (R-Midland County), Straus overthrew the incumbent and has been distrusted by the most extreme factions of his party ever since. Some have a pathological hatred of anyone who work with Democrats and some are just anti-Semites (Straus is Jewish), but the main point is that the Tea Party and Straus go like water and oil.

A few names have popped up over the succeeding sessions to challenge Straus, but they have — without exception — dropped out before the actual vote came up. State Representative Scott Turner (R-Rockwall County), who is challenging Straus ahead of the 2015 session, says he will stay in until the bitter end to demand a vote.

However, the evidence is just not there that Turner can mount anything close to a credible campaign. If he gets more than 25 votes, I will legitimately be shocked.

First, let’s do some simple math. There are 150 members, meaning roughly 76 are needed to secure the gavel. We can put the 52 Democrats in as a given for Straus; they’ve supported him before and will be sure to do so again when the only other option is Turner, arguably too cozy with moneyed right-wing interests. Granted, one Democrat, State Representative Mike Villarreal (D-Bexar County), has resigned and his seat will not likely be filled by early January. Thus, for the sake of argument, there are 51 Democrats.

Then we can toss in 7 Tea Party-affiliated Representatives from the DFW portion of the state, who recently signed an open letter (Letter 1) stating their support for Straus. They are State Representatives Myra Crownover (R-Denton County), Giovanni Capriglione (R-Tarrant County), James Frank (R-Wichita County), Phil King (R-Parker County), Tan Parker (R-Denton County), Ron Simmons (R-Denton County) and Drew Springer (R-Cooke County). Capriglione, a true Tea Party darling, publicly announced and defended his support for Straus at the Northeast Tarrant Tea Party, one of the most infamously anti-Straus organization. It was quite the spectacle. Anyways, that brings the total up to 58.

Today, a further 7 State Representatives and State Representatives-elect publicly backed Straus, in yet another open letter (Letter 2). They are Trent Ashby (R-Angelina County), Cecil Bell (R-Montgomery County), Travis Clardy (R-Nacogdoches County), John Otto (R-Liberty County), Chris Paddie (R-Harrison County), Dade Phelan (R-Jefferson County) and Gary VanDeaver (R-Bowie County). The two open letters, respectively, touted Straus’ conservative credentials (first accessed via Quorum Report, though the letters themselves are open). This now brings the total up to 65.

Straus can be counted upon to vote for himself, as can be some of his closest lieutenants: State Representatives Byron Cook (R-Navarro County), Charlie Geren (R-Tarrant County), Jim Keffer (R-Eastland County) and Jason Villalba (R-Dallas County). That brings us to 70.

Now, I’m just spit-balling here, but if I had to name six more supporters, they would be State Representatives Drew Darby (R-Tom Green), Sarah Davis (R-Harris County), Kyle Kacal (R-Brazos County), J.M. Lozano (R-Kleberg County), J.D. Sheffield (R-Coryell County) and John Zerwas (R-Fort Bent County). They have not made official statements, but I would be very surprised if they voted the other way. Your mileage may vary.

That’s just math, folks. But the good news is that, at the end of the day, Straus will still be in charge for the 84th Legislature. In all likelihood, another faction of six or seven conservative Republicans will rally to Straus’ side tomorrow or the next day, and make my guesses moot. Scott Turner just will not win. Full stop.

I obviously think Straus is more moderate and pragmatic his opponent, but that is not really the reason I am supportive of him. Lest the liberals think he will secretly go along with their agenda, like many on the far-right believe, Straus will put up disastrously extreme pieces of legislation this next session, for the simple reason that they will pass easily in the heavily Republican chamber. But he will do so as a result of the consent of the members, not because of any despotic proclivities or loyalties to outside parties. By that standard alone, he is better than Craddick, Turner or anyone else Michael Quinn Sullivan might prop up next.

Texas Senate changes

The Texas Tribune reports that Comptroller-elect Glenn Hegar, also a member of the State Senate, has resigned his seat in anticipation of assuming high office. Governor Rick Perry has called a special election for December 6th, which will likely have to be resolved by a runoff election some point after the 84th Legislative session convenes at the start of next year.

The three candidates for the State Senate district, which stretches from Katy (Hegar’s hometown) to Corpus Christi to the outskirts of Austin (map here), include Gary Gates and Charles Gregory of Fort Bend County as well as State Representatives Lois Kolkhorst (R-Washington County). Needless to say, the huge district will continue to be dominated by its Greater Houston subdivision. No Democrats have, at print time, announced their interest in the district, and it is not outside the realm of possibility that none will run (the last time the district held an election, in 2012, Hegar ran unopposed).

Perhaps the bigger piece of news is some convincing evidence that State Senator Leticia Van de Putte (D-Bexar County), this year’s unsuccessful Democratic candidate for Lieutenant Governor, will in fact resign her senate seat to run for Mayor of San Antonio. I went over most of the odds-and-ends involving this possibility last week, when I emphatically opined against the decision. Selfishly, I think Van de Putte could continue being an asset for Democrats in this state as an articulate and highly-visible leader of the opposition against Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick in the next session.

The source for this is Robert Miller, a lobbyist in Houston who has a history of breaking these types of stories via Twitter. The tweets were immediately confirmed by former staffers of Van de Putte. Miller, as you may remember, correctly pointed to Wendy Davis running for Governor in August of last year (Back when I thought she would only lose by eight-to-ten points, how naive of me).

With Van de Putte out, another special election would have to be called. The Houston Chronicle has suggested that both State Representative Trey Martinez Fischer and State Representative Jose Menendez, both San Antonio Democrats, would throw their hats in the ring to succeed Van de Putte in heavily gerrymandered (for the Democrats) district. Meanwhile, State Representative Mike Villarreal (D-Bexar County), who recently resigned his House seat to run for Mayor of San Antonio, may still end up switching races.

The San Antonio Express-News has a great profile out that discusses the “friction” between Van de Putte and Villarreal. In 1999, Villarreal had succeeded Van de Putte in the State House when she was first elected to the senate, defeated her hand-picked successor in the process. Ever since, the relationship has been tense. Accordingly, the two might have a nasty campaign ahead of them, though I would think Van de Putte (the only statewide Democrat to carry Bexar County) would be heavily favored.

But the optics about candidates and what not can wait until we have more information. Perry and Governor-elect Greg Abbott, when he takes office, are just petty enough to purposefully drag their feet on a special election to ensure the Democrats start the session with one fewer voice, short of the 1/3 needed to block legislation. Although, as I have previously mentioned, the 2/3rds rule is likely doomed anyways.

Off the Kuff has more (regarding Hegar).

Hall 2.0

I will preface all my remarks with a full confession that, once upon a time, I greatly respected Ben Hall, the former City Attorney, as a politician of honor and integrity. In fact, about two years ago, when he first announced his candidacy in the 2013 Mayoral election and made his first appearance on this publication, I noted that “in an open election, I probably would have supported Ben Hall.”

Over the next year, Hall ran what could generously be called the worst campaign I have ever bared witness to in municipal politics. He was scattered, dishonest and unnecessarily abrasive. I strongly urge you to read through some of my archives tagged under “Ben Hall,” and you will find someone whose patience grows thinner and thinner as time went on. Hall spent a 12 month campaign without bringing up any concrete issues. He merely spoke in broad platitudes, or with unsubstantiated claims about his opponent, Mayor Annise Parker. The few times that he did open his mouth, Hall sometimes contradicted himself, such as his hypocrisy on a proposed non-discrimination ordinance.

Hall’s campaign was also marred by myriad controversies involving his integrity. The Parker camp honed in on Hall’s nasty little problem with not paying his taxes, while Sophia Arena and I published a lengthy exposé on some other conflicts of interest in the past. Simply put, when Hall announced today that he would run for Mayor again next year in the open election, and would immediately begin running radio ads (as reported by the Houston Chronicle), I was not pleased, to say the least.

Hall joins an already crowded list of prospective mayoral candidates, including but not limited to State Representative Sylvester Turner (D-Harris County), former Congressman Chris Bell, Sheriff Adrian Garcia, METRO Chairman Gilbert Garcia, former Kemah Mayor Bill King and City Councilmembers Stephen Costello (R-At Large 1), Jack Christie (R-At Large 5), Oliver Pennington (R-District G) and Ed Gonzalez (D-District H).

In Hall’s 60-second radio spot, triumphant music plays as he narrates. “Last year I promised to have a conversation with you about the things we needed to do to improve our city,” he says. “Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.”

Hall’s ad appears to glance past the fact that he chose to ignore those important issues, and he spends about the next 50 seconds speaking once again in broad platitudes. The one exception, however, is getting in a cheap shot about “Subpoena-gate,” when the mayor’s office made a bone-headed decision to go after the sermons of pastors who railed against the non-discrimination ordinance. As I referenced above, Hall has — at one time — both supported and opposed that ordinance. Ambiguous banalities aren’t doing much to clear up the confusion.

In other news, HCC Trustee Carroll Robinson officially announced his candidacy for City Controller. Robinson, a former member of the City Council, already has a great deal of community support. His likely competitors will be Dwight Jefferson (current METRO Board member and former District Judge) and Bill Frazer (an unsuccessful 2013 candidate).

So far, so centrist

Governor-elect Greg Abbott, fresh off a 20-point decisive victory in the gubernatorial election, looks like he may govern from a less divisive point-of-view than his predecessor, Governor Rick Perry. Yesterday, the Texas Tribune reported that Abbott had made a pick for his Secretary of State, arguably the most powerful appointed executive office in the state. The secretary has broad powers over the legal and election portions of the state bureaucracy. Abbott selected Carlos Cascos, the County Judge of Cameron County (Brownsville). Cascos, a Republican, was first elected to the powerful county executive position in 2006, defeating the incumbent judge, Gilberto Hinojosa, who is now the Chairman of the Texas Democratic Party.

Re-elected both last week and in 2010, Cascos has proven himself a rather middle-of-the-aisle pragmatist. The four County Commissioners that Cascos works alongside on the Commissioner’s Court are all Democrats. Abbott lost the county by 13 points and Lieutenant Governor-elect Dan Patrick lost it by about 22. Needless to say, Cascos is not a right-wing, red-meat conservative.

This is fairly significant, especially in light of recent appointments to the position. The incumbent Secretary of State is Nandita Berry, a lawyer from Houston who is perhaps better known as the wife of conservative shock-jock and former City Councilmember Michael Berry. Cascos, unlike Berry, is not a pick designed to fire up the Tea Party. Rather, he is a choice who is meant to court support from Hispanics and independents.

In comments made after announcing his nomination, Abbott honed in on innocuous issues such as water conservation, mostly straying from divisive issues. In recent days, however, Abbott — who currently also serves as the Attorney General — has noted that he may sue the Federal Government in the near future is President Barack Obama takes any unilateral action on immigration reform. Fortunately, this type of talk has been the exception and not the rule in recent days from the Governor-elect.

I briefly talked about all this last Friday in The Daily Texan, noting that Abbott has been placed in an extremely important position to guide the politics of the state throughout the next biennium.

“While a Senate run by Patrick and packed with his friends would likely pass these measures, they could easily find themselves slowed in the House of Representatives, where Speaker Joe Straus, a comparatively moderate Republican, still reigns supreme,” I wrote. “Straus, left to his own devices, is not much for divisive social issues.”

The Daily Texan Editorial Board also examined what Abbott might do specifically for UT. An alumnus of the university, Abbott will not likely be so damaging for the Longhorns as the incumbent.

“Unlike Perry, Abbott is not so ideologically opposed to the humanities,” we wrote. “His campaigns have not been so heavily underwritten by, nor as closely associated with many of these individuals with a stake in dismantling the University.”

Now, I will freely admit that I am largely grasping at straws here. Abbott has made one appointment, and a whole lot can change when push will come to shove, so to speak, in the near future. But his general demeanor in the past eight days as the Governor-elect, including an apparent willingness to eschew Perry’s controversial Texas Enterprise Fund, should serve as promising signs that perhaps Texas’ 48th Governor will be more centrist than its 47th.

Dewhurst for Mayor?

The Houston Chronicle reports that Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst, who leaves office this January after a dozen years in office, is thinking about running for Mayor of Houston next year.

“I ain’t riding off into the sunset, ever,” Dewhurst told the Chronicle. “I’m a real believer in the Lord’s will, and He’s got something else He wants me to do, and so I’m pursuing what I think is good for me and good for the state.”

Dewhurst, who was defeated for re-election by Lieutenant Governor-elect Dan Patrick earlier this year, must think the third time is the charm. Before being defeated for re-election, he ran for the US Senate in 2012 when Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison retired. Despite being the odds-on favorite for most of the campaign, Ted Cruz won an unexpected, grassroots-based victory over him and succeeded Hutchison in the Senate.

Speaking of next year’s mayoral candidates, another name has popped up since I last profiled the plethora of pretenders to the throne, so to speak. Bill King, the former Mayor of Kemah and a longtime columnist for the Houston Chronicle, is now telling people behind the scenes that he will toss his hat in the ring. King has always been a nice guy with noble ambitions, but many of his Chronicle columns were sometimes just silly. Every single week he would repeat the same trite points about how it was absolutely necessary to gleefully crush public sector pensions or else Houston would turn into Detroit. I tend to agree that something needs to be done in the budgetary department, but the points lose their ripeness the fourth time they are iterated in a month. Additionally, being the Mayor of multiple cities (when they do not merge) just makes me uncomfortable, similar to Scott Brown’s ill-fated run for the Senate in New Hampshire this year.

Back to Dewhurst, I’m not sure how much financial support he could muster, though he is independently wealthy enough to self-finance. Moderate Republicans already have a gaggle of affluent White men competing for their support, and I’m not really convinced that Dewhurst fills any unfilled niche.

And, to bring up the obvious point, Republicans will not likely win the Mayor’s office this next election. Houston is and continues to be a ferociously liberal city. It has not elected a Republican Mayor since the 1970s, and 2015 certainly does not look to be the exception to the rule.

Additionally, though Dewhurst deep down is rather moderate and likely doesn’t care much for social issues, that side of him has been all but eviscerated in two statewide Republican primaries dominated by the Tea Party. The Republicans running for Mayor this year either openly disagree with their party on issues such as gay marriage and abortion, such as City Councilmember Stephen Costello (R-At Large 1), or prioritize other issues, such as City Councilmember Oliver Pennington (R-District G). If Houston doesn’t elect Republicans, we most definitely do not elect socially conservative Republicans. Not in 1985, not today.

Filing bills for the 84th

The Texas Tribune reports that bill filings have begun for next year’s session of the State Legislature. When all was said and done, about 350 proposed laws and constitutional amendments were proposed today. Oddly enough, all this commotion conspicuously occurred amid the silence of Governor-elect Greg Abbott, Lieutenant Governor-elect Dan Patrick and Speaker Joe Straus (R-Bexar County). Most of the loudest initiatives came from Democrats and Tea Party Republicans, with both leadership and centrists mostly ducking away from the limelight.

For whatever reason, the Tribune as well as the Associated Press have been harping about a new proposed ban on texting-while-driving. The usual suspects, including former Speaker Tom Craddick (R-Midland County), have been pushing the measure once again, cautiously optimistic that the new Governor would consider the idea; a far cry from Governor Rick Perry, who infamously vetoed the bipartisan measure in 2011. However, Abbott noted in the course of the campaign that he too would likely veto a measure. Accordingly, it’s a dumb point to focus upon.

Most notable were three major Tea Party aspirations, all of which very well may get a vote in this upcoming session. First, three concurrent pieces of legislation (HB 106 by State Representative Dan Flynn (R-Van Zandt County); HB 164 by State Representative James White (R-Tyler County) and; HB 195 by State Representative Jonathan Stickland (R-Tarrant County)) were all introduced that would have the effect of ushering in “open carry” in Texas, meaning that all CHL holders could openly show off their deadly weapons in any location its hidden counterpart would be welcome. Abbott has implied he would sign such a law.

Second, Stickland also introduced HB 209, which would do away with the Texas Dream Act, the bipartisan policy nearly unanimously passed at the start of Perry’s tenure that allows undocumented students brought into this country in their infancy to attend UT and other public universities at the “in-state” rate. Abbott would also sign this proposal.

Third, State Representative Jim Murphy (R-Harris County) introduced HB 193 while State Senator Craig Estes (R-Wichita County) introduced SB 105. The bills would repeal Texas’ unpopular franchise tax, the closest thing to taxes on corporate profits in the state.

That’s more or less what’s important, but I included a list below of the other assorted bills that piqued my interest one way or another:

  • HB41 by State Representative Trey Martinez Fischer (D-Bexar County) would raise the minimum wage to about $10, while HB 174 would do the same for state contractors.
  • HB 53 by State Representative Ruth McClendon (D-Bexar County) would raise the age at which offenders are tried as an adult from 17 to 18, all other things being equal.
  • HB 68 by State Representative Robert Alonzo (D-Dallas County) would allow for driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants.
  • HB 70 by State Representative Mary Gonzalez (D-El Paso County) would provide for penalties for bullying on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in school districts.
  • HB 71 by Gonzalez would create a “Romeo & Juliet exception” for same-sex partners.
  • HB 76 by State Representative Ceila Israel (D-Travis County) would allow for online voter registration.
  • HB 78 by Gonzalez would provide for comprehensive sexual education in schools.
  • HB 81 by State Representative Ryan Guillen (D-Starr County) as well as HB 170 by State Representative Carol Alvarado (D-Harris County) would regulate e-cigarettes throughout the state, as well as prohibit their sale to minors.
  • HB 89 by Gonzalez would regulate tuition at public universities.
  • HB 91 by Flynn would create a legal marketplace for the sale of raw milk.
  • HB 92 by White would legalize possession of the “Bowie knife,” among other changes to the state’s knife laws.
  • HB 93, HB 107 and HB 110 by White would greatly reform and generally liberalize laws pertaining to truancy. Specifically, the fine would be reduced from $500 to $20, among other provisions.
  • HB 97 by Guillen as well as HB 189 by State Representative Senfronia Thompson (D-Harris County) would end the statute of limitations on sexual assault.
  • HB 108 by Guillen would retain the right of lottery winners to be anonymous.
  • HB 111 by Fischer would allow for voters to register to vote on election day.
  • HB 113 by State Representative Allen Fletcher (R-Harris County) would criminalize aborting a fetus based on its gender.
  • HB 116 by Fischer would expand Medicaid in Texas.
  • HB 124 by Fischer would expand free, universal Pre-Kindergarten throughout the state.
  • HB 130 by State Representative Rafael Anchia (D-Dallas County), as well as other pertinent joint resolutions, would legalize gay marriage in Texas.
  • HB 135 by Flynn would require High School students to take a civics class on the US Constitution.
  • HB 138 by Flynn would require the 10 Commandments be posted in schools, in clear defiance of the Supreme Court.
  • HB 142 by Stickland would prohibit the use of red light cameras for traffic citations.
  • HB 147 by State Representative Jose Menendez (D-Bexar County) would require merchants to receive photo identification for major purchases involving credit cards.
  • HB 150 by Flynn would nix day light saving’s time in Texas.
  • HB 161 by State Representative Lyle Larson (R-Bexar County) would allow prisons to house inmates in tents.
  • HB 176 by State Representative Tim Kleinschmidt (R-Lee County) would somehow “allow” the state to not follow Federal laws involving guns that they did not fancy. The ignorance here is astounding.
  • HB 204 by State Representative Jeff Leach (R-Collin County) would shorten summer break for public schools by about two weeks.
  • HB 213 by State Representative Angie Button (R-Dallas County) would require ex-legislators to wait four years before lobbying under the dome.
  • HB 215 by State Representative Patricia Harless (R-Harris County) would do away with the fees for fishing licenses when it came to fishermen 65 years and older.
  • HB 216 by White would lower the minimum wage for a concealed handgun license from 21 to 18.
  • HJR 31 by Gonzalez would require the Attorney General to be an attorney.
  • HJR 37 by Larson would require legislators to resign from office before running for something else.
  • HJR 38 by Larson would impose term limits on state offices.
  • SB 54 by State Senator Jane Nelson (R-Denton County) would drug test welfare recipients.
  • SB 76 by State Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Harris County) would prohibit insurance discrimination on the part of sexual orientation or gender identity.
  • SB 81 by Ellis would create a commission to further research wrongful convictions, particularly for capital offenses.
  • SB 82 by Ellis would greatly expand the availability of probation for drug-related offenses.
  • SB 86 by Ellis would allow for no-excuse absentee voting.
  • SB 135 by State Senator John Whitmire (D-Harris County) would reform grand jury systems by transitioning from “pick-a-pal” systems in which the grand jurors are chosen by an intermediary to one in which the District Judge directly selects the participants.
  • SB 139 by State Senator Charles Perry (R-Lubbock County) would end diversions from the State Highway Fund to the Department of Public Safety, among other recipients.
  • SB 141 by State Senator Sylvia Garcia (D-Harris County) would increase voter education for high school seniors.
  • SB 148 by State Senator Jose Rodriguez (D-El Paso County) would repeal the unconstitutional ban on “homosexual conduct.”
  • SB 150 by State Senator Kel Seliger (R-Potter County) would appropriate about $3 Billion for university construction around the state.
  • SB 158 by State Senator Royce West (D-Dallas County) would grant funds for local police departments to purchase body cameras, then require officers wear them throughout their interactions with the public.
  • SB 173 by State Senator Joan Huffman (R-Harris County) would deem synthetic marijuana a “controlled substance.”
  • SJR 10 by State Senator Donna Campbell (R-Comal County) would invalidate municipality’s non-discrimination ordinances.