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).

Let’s talk about 2016! (Republican primary, Part 2)

Editorial note: This article is the third installment in a series about prospective 2016 Presidential candidates by Noah M. Horwitz. On Saturday, he wrote at length about Democratic candidates. On Sunday, he wrote at length about Republican candidates in a subset he called “Establishment Conservatives.” This evening, he will write about Republican candidates within the “Tea Party Conservatives” subset.

I opined last evening that there are four basic categories of prospective Republican candidates for President. The “Establishment Conservatives,” “Establishment Tea Party,” “Fringe Tea Party” and “Outcast.” The main distinction between the outcast and the other categories is the presence of some semblance of political experience. The main distinction between the “fringe” and the “establishment” is how well-renowned the individual is on the national stage. Finally, Tea Party is a bit of an arbitrary descriptor, as there is no monolithic organization to which a member might belong, but I have done my best to weed out the so-called RINOs, to borrow the group’s lexicon. For example, in the 2012 Republican primaries, Herman Cain and Donald Trump would be “outcasts.” Michele Bachmann was “Fringe Tea Party,” Rick Santorum was “Establishment Tea Party” and Mitt Romney was “Establishment Conservative.” Hopefully, that clears it up.

ESTABLISHMENT TEA PARTY

1. Ted Cruz, Senator from Texas
Cruz came out of nowhere to defeat Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst in the 2012 Republican primary for the Senate, marking the beginning of the end for the Lieutenant Governor and the beginning of the beginning for the closest thing the Tea Party has has for a leader since its inception. A former Solicitor General of Texas with a sterling track record at the US Supreme Court, as well as a graduate (magna cum laude) of Harvard Law School, Cruz is undoubtedly brilliant. That being said, I’ve never really noticed his assumed intellectuality being used in politics. Cruz goes for the gut through soppy speeches replete with straw-man arguments and sometimes outright fabrications. But it works for him, and he is reasonably the frontrunner for this contest.

Pick a conservative issue, Cruz has put his money on it. He lacks the strange libertarian excesses of Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) while still maintaining nearly cult-like following from many in those same circles. Much ink will be spilled in the next couple years asking if Cruz is the Republican version of President Barack Obama, once also a first-term Senator with higher ambitions. Both have mothers whose families have been in this country for quite long, but both have fathers who were foreigners.

I equate Cruz with Obama because of one key reason, far removed from the parallels I just highlighted. Cruz is the “Tea Party Messiah” in a way that Obama definitely was –and to a limited extent, still is– among younger crowds. I wrote at length on this subject last year up in Boston, and already see the initial effects for Cruz on the other side. If Cruz is serious about running for President, which I believe he is, he will need to move back to the center, progressively taking more and more stands on issues that will be sure to tick off his obstreperous base. But, if the “Obama effect” holds true, he will be infallible. That could be a dangerous mix for the Democrats, which is why I am confident that Cruz stands a good chance of clinching the general election against Hillary Clinton. I still think Clinton is favored, but not by that much.

2. Rand Paul, Senator from Kentucky
Paul, the son of longtime Texas Congressman Ron Paul, is every bit the politician that he father was not. He backs away from conspiracy theories, but has most of the courage to take a stand on civil liberties and foreign policy issues. He is unequivocally opposed to NSA Wiretapping, the USA PATRIOT Act, and most everything going on at Guantanamo Bay. He believes in isolationism, though he may fight tooth and nail against it being characterized by that word.

On other issues, Paul is surprisingly reasonable. He was supportive of the Supreme Court’s recent decision Windsor v. United States (striking down the Defense of Marriage Act), though he remains virulently opposed to same-sex marriage on a state-by-state level. Earlier this year, he co-sponsored a bipartisan piece of legislation that would generously liberalize requirements for felons to vote. He has even come out in favor of some limited relaxing of drug laws, much like his father.

Of course, Paul more than makes up on conservative bona fides with the rest of his positions. He believes that abortion in all cases –even the life of the mother– should be illegal and a constitutional amendment to that effect should be implemented. He opposes all gun control, government intrusion in healthcare and is radically opposed to many entitlement programs. His libertarian foreign policy arguments surely will draw the ire of the neoconservative establishment.

3. Marco Rubio, Senator from Florida
Rubio is an interesting figure. His positions on many political issues are notoriously hard to get hammed down, given how fluid they are depending on the day of the week. Specifically, on immigration reform, Rubio has been on both sides of the fence more than once. Originally a vociferous supporter of comprehensive reform, even a co-sponsor of the Senate bill, Rubio infamously changed his mind once he began taking flack on the matter.

More recently, however, he reportedly was back to talk over decisive action on the immigration front. In doing so, he has effectively become hostile against both sides on the issue. Not only the Tea Party, but pro-immigration reform groups now view his word as useless.

On other issues, such as climate change, Rubio has unequivocally stated his grave doubts on the topic, making him a late-night punchline for a number of evenings. While there are plenty of specs that would make Rubio an ideal candidate on paper, he has just had a few too many stumbles in the limelight. I mention the silly little water bottle incident not because I think it marks poorly upon his performance that night, but because it showed that the rest of his speech was utterly unremarkable. If a nominal screw-up like that occurs, it is only harped upon incessantly when there is nothing else good to cover–the 24 hour media has to cover something!

4. Paul Ryan, Congressman from Wisconsin
Ryan, obviously, was Mitt Romney’s running mate in the 2012 Presidential election. For whatever reason, failed Vice-Presidential candidates never fare very well when they run for the top-spot the next go-round. Dan Quayle, Joe Lieberman and John Edwards immediately come to mind. Sarah Palin never even got around to running.

Now, you may be curious why I placed Ryan in the Tea Party crowd, as opposed to the establishment. After all, he is a self-described policy wonk and is Chairman of the House Budget Committee. I think Paul Krugman at The New York Times recently did a fairly swell job of dispelling that notion. Ever since the days of his Vice-Presidential campaign, he has used plenty of fuzzy math.

Ryan has what I would call “typical” views on most political issues, particularly within foreign policy, but he is far more malleable by the base than many of his colleagues. For someone who has been in Congress since the Clinton administration, I am hesitant to apply the Tea Party label, but think he has really jumped on the ship quite effectively. In that regard, he is eerily reminiscent of Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, the Republican gubernatorial nominee.

Watch out for Ryan; that is, if he decides to run. He could easily run his campaign as a sort of successor to Mitt Romney. And say what you will about Romney, but the man has been vindicated on a number of issues since his failed campaign, particularly in the foreign policy sphere. I still do not think that Russia is the United States’ number one foe, but it is certainly more on our radar now than it was two years ago.

5. Rick Santorum, former Senator from Pennsylvania
Santorum will have been out of politics for nearly a decade by this point, so I truly cannot tell why he would ever wish to take another longshot stab at the Presidency. Perhaps he is a glutton for punishment. Santorum has been making a plethora of trips to Iowa, and has publicly expressed interest in another run for the White House

I think Santorum is what I would call the “Eric Dick of the GOP primaries,” if he were to run again. The phrase, harkening back to last year’s failed Mayoral candidate, means someone who stands no chance of winning but could significantly affect the outcome nonetheless. Dick received over 10% of the vote in 2013, and I would expect him to garner a comparable percentage –much from the same people, low-information voters familiar with his commercials or amused by his surname– if he were tor run again in 2015. Not nearly enough to win, but certainly enough to have a huge impact if there were 8 candidates.

Similarly, Santorum has just enough support from evangelicals that he could win the Iowa Caucuses, even though he would be one of the last people that voters in 30+ States would ever support. This could throw a wrench into the plans of many candidates.

Hopefully, I get to the remainder of the candidates tomorrow. But for now, I’ve covered the frontrunners, as well as a couple others fortuitously mentioned in the same article despite having not a shred of a chance. As of now, the five frontunners are Bush, Perry, Cruz, Paul and Rubio. Two Floridians and two Texans.

 

Texpatriate’s (belated) Questions for Ben Hall

April Fools!
Real note: We still maintain large respect for Dr Hall, but we had this old fake interview lying around. In a spirit of evenhandedness, we will be making jokes about everyone else this evening in The Houston New Post. Make sure to check it out!

Editorial note: This is the thirty-third 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.

Ben-Hall-300x274

Ben Hall, candidate for Mayor

Texpatriate: What is your name?
BH: Fake Ben Hall

Click here to read the entire interview!

The Empire Strikes Back

The progressive one, anyhow.

Amid painfully low voter turnout of less than 4%, it became abundantly clear that the progressives* had showed up in force last night *–I use the term progressive, not ‘liberal’ or ‘Democrat,’ in this context because the Council is far more diverse, with Conservative Democrats like Andrew Burks and Progressive Republicans like Stephen Costello. Two incumbent City Councilmembers were defeated for re-election and an open seat saw a repudiation of the longstanding political dynamic there. In many respects, this is the realignment of the City Council from the blunders of 2011.

There were also three elections for the HCC Board, two of which also featured incumbents losing their re-election bids. Particularly of note here was the loss of Yolanda Navarro-Flores, who has an accomplished political career. A longtime HCC Trustee and former member of the Texas House of Representatives, she has also run unsuccessful campaigns for the City Council and the State Senate. According to Off the Kuff, Navarro-Flores allegedly engaged in some pretty unseemly and homophobic tactics throughout the election. Despite having roughly a 23 point lead in November and just being a few votes shy of outright victory, she lost by a whopping 6 points on last night. Despite doing very well in absentee votes, she lost Election Day votes by 24 points. Goes to show what motivating your base will do for you.

Click here to read more!

Texpatriate runoff liveblog

Please follow @NmHorwitz on Twitter for up to the minute coverage from the runoffs!

10:58 BOS/9:58 HOU
Final RESULTS!
A–Stardig 51%/Brown 49%
D–Boykins 70%/Provost 30%
I–Gallegos 53%/Garces 47%
AL2–Robinson 51%/Burks 49%
AL3–Kubosh 53%/Morales 47%
HCC1–Capo 53%/Navarro-Flores 47%
HCC3–Tamez 53%/Garcia 47%
HCC5–Glaser 60%/Kunetka–40%

Continue reading

Mudslinging in District I

First, the Houston Chronicle compiled an outline of the runoff election in District, between Graciana Garces and Robert Gallegos. As I noted about three weeks ago, the election looks to be a perfect carbon-copy of the special election for District 6 of the Texas Senate earlier this year. In that election, Sylvia Garcia (the former boss of Gallegos) defeated Carol Alvarado (the former boss of Garces) in the runoff that was ultimately held.

The Chronicle article, however, does not really note the policy differences that the two candidates have. Texpatriate endorsed Sylvia Garcia in March, just as how we endorsed Robert Gallegos in November, largely for the disquieting contributors of their respective opponents’ campaigns. Both Alvarado and (more timely) Garces have been funded in no small part by the payday lending lobby. Additionally, Councilmember James Rodriguez (to which Garces is actually the Chief of Staff) has been fighting against a recent proposal to regulate these payday lenders, and Garces has remained strangely silent and opaque on the issue. Her campaign continues to insist that she has not taken a definitive position, though I remain rather skeptical. Gallegos, on the other hand, is an ardent supporter.

Click here to read more about the mudslinging in District I!

Council update, 12/11

The Houston City Council took no major action this week, as Councilmembers high and low tagged proposals to delay them for one week. Instead, the only updates we have are those that seek to prognosticate towards the future involving existing proposals, almost all of which were pushed back by the dilatory tactic.

First, KPRC is reporting on a proposal to relax the City’s alcohol sales ordinance, which bans any store from selling beer or wine within 1000 feet to a school or a church. Mayor Parker has now proposed easing the regulation to 300 feet, applying only to “larger grocery stores.” I have no idea what the cutoff between a small store and a large grocery store is, and I am in no small part concerned about the possibility that this is an olive branch to Wal-Mart and the like. That being said, perhaps I am just misreading all of it.

The proposal is meant to attract more grocery stores to low-income areas, where very small churches are often ubiquitously located in strip-malls alongside shopping centers. These low-income areas are often called Food Deserts for the scarcity of healthy eating and shopping options nearby. The Houston Chronicle recently cataloged these problems, citing efforts by the City to help alleviate the problems.

Click here to read about the Payday Lending ordinance and why it is in jeopardy!