Lane Lewis needs to resign the Chairmanship

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The Houston Chronicle reports on a subject that has been brewing no shortage of chatter around Houston among local political types: whether or not Harris County Democratic Party Chairman Lane Lewis, who is also running for the Houston City Council, should resign the chairmanship. Upon some contemplation, my answer to that question is an emphatic yes.

Back in December, when Lewis first announced his candidacy, I was broadly supportive, given his track record as party chair. I have liked what Lewis has accomplished at the helm of the party, and was very supportive when he previously ran for the city council in 2009. In 2012, he was named Person of the Year by Texpatriate. It is my firm belief that if someone less competent than him were leading the party that election, every single Democratic incumbent would have been defeated.

All these qualities, all other things being equal, make Lewis a great candidate for the city council. But none of them justify him staying on as chair. Of course, I recognize that neither pertinent law or party rules compel Lewis to resign, but it is the right and ethical thing to do nonetheless.

Lewis was not the first candidate in this race, not by a long-shot. He was also not the first Democrat; the third, actually. Philippe Nassif and Jenifer Pool, both good progressives, would make fine councilmembers. Both have been outwardly campaigning for the position for many months. My biggest fear is that Lewis or his allies could — even inadvertently — coerce other Democrats out of the race because of the power he has over the party.

The party is not allowed to endorse in non-partisan elections like this one for that very reason. Likewise, salaried employees of the party may not get involved. A big player in the HCDP, Finance Chair Bill Baldwin, has resigned in order to take on a more direct role in Lewis’ campaign. It simply does not pass the ‘smell test’ that the chairman of the party need not adhere to the same standards.

In the Chronicle article, Lewis defended his decision not to run, pointing to the plethora of other politicians in elected office who simultaneously run for another office. However, this ignores the most inimitable quality of Lewis’ office: its constituents are not citizens, but political cadres, including other politicians. Lewis is in a unique position to reward or punish other municipal candidates. One that HCC Trustee Chris Oliver, for example, another candidate for At-Large Position #1, simply does not have the power to do.

As Texas Leftist and John Wright (writing for Project Q Houston) have noted, there have already been spats between Lewis and another candidate (Pool). This is to be expected; it is politics, after all. But what makes political trench-fighting like this so dangerous is that Lewis has weapons at his disposal that his opponents do not. Now, I do not think Lewis has done anything improper hitherto on his campaign, but he should proactively eliminate the possibility of it altogether and resign the chairmanship.

Lewis has been a good chairman, and would make a good councilmember if elected. I want to consider supporting him, but he needs to resign as chair in order to run a feasible campaign. If he doesn’t, there is simply no way that I could support him, all other things remaining equal.

Brains & Eggs and Off the Kuff have more.

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8 thoughts on “Lane Lewis needs to resign the Chairmanship

  1. There’s some better comparisons to be made here. I wonder if you might respond to them.

    1) Debbie Wasserman-Schultz serves as head of the DNC and in Congress at the same time (and also is now considering a bid for the US Senate in Florida), and

    2) perhaps helping you make your case, the chairman of the Cook County (Chicago) Democratic Party also serves as the county assessor and is a lobbyist at the Illinois state legislature, all simultaneously.

    Irrespective of how corrupt these folks may or may not be (and without digressing to an opinion about the state of Cook County politics generally), by your premise applied to Lane Lewis here… should they both resign or have resigned one job to run for another?

    • The Cook County case doesn’t pass the smell test either, and the DWS at the DNC example is not applicable.

      It’s similar to if DWS decided to run for President or Vice-President at the helm of the DNC. That would be iffy, in my opinion. Florida’s 23rd Congressional District is really small in the grand scheme of the DNC’s territory, but the whole City of Houston represents the vast majority of the HCDP’s territory.

  2. So there’s an equivalency between AL1 and the presidency or the vice-presidency, but not Senator or Congressman? Geography, or perhaps square mileage, is the determinant? Or is it population you’re referring to?

    Nope, don’t see your point.

    At-large city council members represent more people than state senators, too, but they don’t get pre-approval from the governor on judicial candidates in their districts.

    The answer you could have given was a simple ‘yes’, which would have made the most sense.

    • Additionally, I think there is a distinction with a difference in that DWS was already a congresswoman before she took over the DNC. She didn’t initially run while serving at the helm of the party.

  3. Let me ask about your “presidency/vice presidency” equivalency to AL1 (a false one IMO, but for the sake of discussion, ignore my objection to it).

    — Should LBJ have resigned from the US Senate when he was nominated for V-P in 1960, even though state law allowed him to be on the ballot twice?

    — Should Rand Paul resign from the US Senate to run for the presidency? His state’s law doesn’t allow him to run for both, but he is petitioning his state’s legislature to change the law so that he can.

    — Marco Rubio has stated that he “will only run for one office” in 2016, despite his state’s calendar quirk that would allow him to run for both.

    None of these involve an incumbency as party chair (a position the influence of which I believe you severely over-estimate, by virtue of words like “coerce”, “reward or punish”, and the like in the OP) so we’re not quite apples-to-apples. Don’t cop out to that excuse, since I’ve granted you a false choice already.

    By the premise in your first response to me here… Marco Rubio is the most principled of these three… and more so than Lane Lewis?

    • I think I explained this distinction rather well. Officeholders represent constituents, whereas party officials represent party cadres. Ergo, Lewis has unique power over his fellow candidates.

  4. While I think you raise important issues to keep our eyes open for, there is no need for Lane Lewis to resign. Here are a few reasons why he should not resign ….
    1. City Council is a non-partisan race. There is absolutely no conflict of interest here. More importantly, there is no Democratic primary for Chair to run while being a candidate.
    2. Every candidate must have a strong wall between their current position and the one they are applying for. Separate bank accounts, separate staff, separate e-mail, separate everything! This is true for incumbents too (although I think the dual twitter accounts is overkill).
    3. Lane Lewis is smart enough to know that if he is caught using Party resources for his own political campaign his Democratic opponents will have a big issue to club him with.
    4. The detractors should consider the alternative – that HCDP not have any Chair for a long period. The Chair is an elected official and can only be replaced in the next election (Nov. 2015 or March 2016?). Baldwin was not elected and quickly replaced by the very capable Lopez. Lewis leaving now would make the Party leaderless for a long time.

    • Since the Democratic party has not done well under Lane Lewis, not having anyone at the helm may not be a bad idea.

      How well did the Dem party this past November?

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