Council update 10/8

 

A few weeks ago, I noted that Mayor Annise Parker and City Attorney David Feldman were pondering pushing through a ban on types of synthetic marijuana. Today, they introduced the item to the City Council and it passed unanimously. Whereas pertinent State law only disallows the specific chemical makeup typically found in the fake cannabis, the new City law is more all-encompassing. Instead of targeting the compound, it goes after the way it is “marketed and labeled.” That’s good, but I’m concerned it might open up the law to some court challenges.

Synthetic marijuana, unlike it’s honest counterpart, has some serious health risks. Despite the name, there are few similarities in either the high you get or the health risks presented. Unlike the mellowness and avoidance of overdoses hailed as hallmarks of cannabis, the effects of synthetic marijuana are far more similar to that of amphetamines. Lasting brain damage can occur. Forbes Magazine has an article that explains the plethora of individuals who have fatally overdosed on the substance. Perhaps the most compelling reason for the legalization of marijuana is that, since the beginning of time, zero people have fatally OD-ed on it. Obviously, the same is not true with the synthetic substances, prompting a rationale for prohibiting its use even when he are liberalizing drug laws in other ways.

“It is an epidemic, it is the fastest growing drug of choice across the United States and it is many, many, many times more potent than natural marijuana and, in fact, it has no relation to marijuana other than it stimulates some of the same receptors in the body,” Parker told the Chronicle. “It can cause stupor, but it can also cause aggression and agitation, and it’s causing a lot of concern across the community.”

Otherwise, as the Houston Chronicle also notes, most of the buzz surrounding City Hall today involved numerous proposals for amending the City Charter. The four specific changes floated, which could see a ballot — if at all — either next May or next November, are as follows: lifting the revenue cap on property taxes, amending term limit rules, allowing secret meetings of the Council and allowing a gaggle of Councilmembers to propose agenda items.

The revenue cap is an issue that came up over the summer but has predominantly fallen out of the news recently. At issue is a decade-old, voter-approved ceiling on the amount of property taxes raised. Simply put, despite controls of growth and inflation, it simply has not kept up. Because of the cap, rates for homeowners will effectively fall in the coming years –which is indubitably a good thing. But the city will be constrained and will, even in a good economy, be compelled to return to slashing services. It’s a lose-lose proposition, and one that will be bitterly hard to fight. All in all, I think the cap should be lifted, but it’s hard to imagine a majority of the low-turnout municipal electorate agreeing.

Next is the oft-repeated proposal to amend term limit laws. Currently, the Mayor, City Controller and City Council are all limited by three two-year terms. The proposal touted by the Mayor would change this to two four-year terms; I don’t know how it would affect incumbent officeholders, and how many more years they could serve if the proposal is adopted.

Now, most of the arguments in support of term limit reform fall on deaf ears for me. While I’m ambivalent about the whole idea of limiting how many terms a legislator (which a City Councilmember effectively is) can serve, I am a vociferous advocate of frequent elections. The proposal would quite literally make these officeholders accountable to the public half as often, breaking from the tradition set by the lower House of both Congress and the State Legislature. While advocates of it may whine about the stresses put on politicians, I simply do not give a care. Their concerns are subservient to the concerns of their constituents.

Particularly with the increasingly erratic electorate that selects members of the City Council, obstructive Councilmembers are becoming more and more frequent. Former City Councilmembers Helena Brown (R-District A) and Andrew Burks (D-At Large 2) are two sterling examples of this phenomenon. If they were elected under Parker’s proposal, they would still be around doing all that they did at Council meetings. Need I say more?

Third, a proposal has been floated to allow the Houston City Council to meet more in private. Parker and Feldman, I recall, made a similar push a few years ago, but received criticism from the Councilmembers. The two now-former CMs who opposed the strongest, however, Al Hoang (R-District F) and James Rodriguez (D-District I), are no longer on the Council. I have always been bitterly opposed to closed-door sessions such as these, in principle as well as practice. When my father ran for the City Council last year, I even encouraged him to record an advertisement deriding the proposal.

Last, but certainly not least, is a proposal by City Councilmember C.O. Bradford (D-At Large 4) to allow for a coalition of at least six Councilmembers to proposal agenda items. Currently, only the Mayor can make proposals on the agenda. To this, the Mayor appeared absolutely opposed; I can’t say I’m surprised, she has acted almost imperial unilateral with her power recently.

A few months ago, when I spoke to former Congressman Chris Bell, a likely Mayoral contender for 2015, he also expressed support for allowing the Council to influence the agenda. All in all, I tend to think individual Councilmembers should be able to introduce items, but I suppose that just goes against the spirit of the strong-Mayor system.

What do you think about this proposals? How about the synthetic pot ban?

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Texpatriate endorses in State Legislative elections

Editorial note: This board will issue separate editorials in Senate District 17 and in House District 134. State Representatives Dan Huberty (R-127), Alma Allen (D-131), Sylvester Turner (D-139), Armando Walle (D-140), Senfronia Thompson (D-141), Harold Dutton Jr. (D-142) Ana Hernandez Luna (D-143), Carol Alvarado (D-145) and Garnet Coleman (D-147) are all unopposed. We will only issue endorsements for elections Statewide and in Harris County.

We like to be bipartisan and support pragmatic Republicans. We –controversially– endorsed Congressman Ted Poe‘s re-election this year, and last year we named City Councilmember Stephen Costello (R-At Large 1) as the best Councilmember in Houston. We want to believe in a world where the parties can set aside their small-minded ideology and work together to come up with solutions to the State’s problems. A world where extremist rhetoric is just something for the television cameras, and grown-up mentalities arise behind the closed doors of the session.

Unfortunately, we don’t live in that world. Only the willfully naive would actually think those idealistic goals are still feasible for the class running for the Texas Legislature as Republicans, or –for the most part– the Republican incumbents in the chamber. Accordingly, in overwhelming fashion, we endorse the Democrats.

There just are not two reasonable perspectives on all too many of the issues facing Texas today. Giving equal rights to people on the basis of their gender or sexual orientation is no longer an issue that should be seen as having two serious sides. Supporting corporal punishment in school is not something that normal people support, and yet, the Republicans in the State Legislature back it vehemently. While there is a reasonable debate to be had on gun control laws, supporting legislation that would allow for the imprisonment of Federal officials attempting to enforce Federal law is not within its confides.

Senate District 7
Paul Bettencourt, the Republican candidate for this seat, currently held by outgoing State Senator (and GOP Lieutenant Governor candidate) Dan Patrick, served as the Harris County Tax Assessor for many years. To put it lightly, his tenure was egregious. Back then, and still to this today, Bettencourt has demonstrated a troubling unfamiliarity with the taxation system.

Bettencourt supports the heavy reduction of property tax rate, without a legitimate plan to offset the lessened revenue. Such strong rhetoric absent meaningful political policies is truly not needed among those in the Texas Senate. However, we have yet to see any correspondence whatsoever from Bettencourt’s Democratic opponent, Jim Davis. He has no website, and has made no public statements on his candidacy thus far. Accordingly, we simply cannot support him in good faith.

Rather, this board has decided to go with the Libertarian candidate, Whitney Bilyeu. Unlike the Democrat, Bilyeu has been remarkably active both online and in person, campaigning incessantly throughout the community. While she shares Bettencourt’s silly belief to drastically lower property taxes, at least she is under no illusions about the tough spending decisions that would have to be made under such a scheme. A divergent ideology is easier to work with than inconsistency with reality.

Furthermore, we largely agree with Bilyeu’s positions on social issues, namely her opposition to the asinine prohibition on marijuana and her support for the 2/3rds rule in the Texas Senate.

Therefore, this board endorses Whitney Bilyeu for the Texas Senate, District 7.

Senate District 15
John Whitmire has honorably and capably served his constituents in the Texas Senate for more than 30 years, with an over-40 year career in the State Legislature. He currently serves as the Dean of the Texas Senate, a position that garners him a tremendous amount of respect from throughout both sides of the aisle. While we have certainly had some major qualms with Whitmire in the past, as we said last February in endorsing him over his Democratic primary challenger, Whitmire’s myriad strengths outnumber his weaknesses many times over.

Using similar criteria, we will support Whitmire once again over his Republican opponent, Ron Hale. While Hale, who unsuccessfully ran for the Houston City Council last year, has many redeeming qualities, we agree with Whitmire on most of the divisive issues that we have previously noted. Furthermore, residents of District 15 would be foolish to throw away the unmatched representation they can receive from a Senator who commands as much respect as Whitmire.

Accordingly, this board endorses John Whitmire for the Texas Senate, District 15.

House District 126
State Representative Patricia Harless, a Republican who has served in office since 2007, has supported many troubling right-wing causes, including the previously noted corporal punishment bill. She even was a prominent backer of the troubling “Guns on Campus” bill, which this board strongly opined against on numerous occasions.

But her only opponent, Libertarian Cris Hernandez, has no footprint online or in person, and apparently no experience whatsoever in government or politics. We also have a feeling that his political views are not any better than Harless’.

Accordingly, this board endorses Patricia Harless for the Texas House, District 126.

House District 128
By remarkably similar circumstances to the previously featured endorsement, this board chooses to endorse the Republican, Wayne Smith, the incumbent State Representative since 2003. His only opponent is the Libertarian, Ken Lowder.

House District 129
After many years, the incumbent State Representative, John Davis, will retire from his position representing a large constituency around the Clear Lake area. Davis was a comparably pragmatic Republican, one whose presence in the capitol will indubitably be missed.

However, in a remarkably strange turn of events, both general election candidates for this post are ideologically consistent. The Republican, Dennis Paul, and the Democrat, John Gay, have Tea Party affiliated political views. Despite his evidently new partisan label, Gay has been active for many years in the bay region as an unabashed conservative. Accordingly, much like a primary election, we will determine who is the best candidate based on his leadership skills.

On that front, the choice is crystal clear. The ostensible “Republican,” Dennis Paul, has years of experience in political wrangling and government affairs. Gay, on the other hand, has always been a fringe observer from afar. Thus, this board endorses Dennis Paul for the Texas House, District 129.

House District 130
By remarkably similar circumstances to the previous featured endorsements in HD126 and HD128, this board chooses to endorse the Republican, Allen Fletcher, the incumbent State Representative since 2009. His only opponent is the Green, Arthur Browning.

House District 132
State Representative Bill Callegari, a veteran of the Texas House since 2001, retired following last session. He was an inconsistent Republican ally for pragmatism and common sense, sometimes coming to the aid of sensible solutions and sometimes not. Unfortunately, in the heated Republican primary to succeed him, it only looks like more of the same. Mike Schofield, the Republican nominee for this position, still advocates for cutting government spending even more. This board pegs the question of, merely, how?

How are we supposed to further cut spending with invaluable government programs, such as transportation infrastructure and education, already cut down to the studs? Especially when the state’s coffers are literally overflowing with surplus funds. Schofield’s small-minded ideology has clouded his ability to see what is, while losing track of what is truly best for Texas. Luckily, there is another option.

Luis Lopez, the Democrat, has not only a greatly-inspiring life story, but a great grasp on the issues that represent deeply divergent points of view from Schofield. An immigrant himself at a very young age, he not only possesses the empathy needed to be an effective representative, but he understands the logistics of the issue itself.

Lopez is supportive of compassionate-yet-realistic immigration positions. He would be a great improvement for the education system, and also supports the repeal of damaging anti-abortion legislation that endangers thousands upon thousands of Texas women. Accordingly, this board endorses Luis Lopez for the Texas House, District 132.

House District 133
State Representative Jim Murphy has capably represented his constituents for a few terms now, first from 2007 to 2009 and then from 2011 to the present. We have found him to be sincere in his convictions and working with good intention to best represents his constituents. However, the political views that he has espoused are dangerously out of step. As noted in many of the previous endorsements, we have a serious problem with legislators who have taken egregious legislative action, such as voting to condone corporal punishment in schools, standing against equal pay for women or denying gays and lesbians some of their basic human rights. Simply put, this board finds no possible way in which we could support Murphy for another term.

Murphy’s opponent, Democrat Laura Nicol, presents plenty of her own concerns. She prompts a few questions about her preparation to hold public office, but we fervently believe that those concerns are heavily outweighed by the qualms we have with the incumbent. We believe that, at the end of the day, many of the positions that Nicol espouses are closer to our point of perspective, and so we will give her our nod.

Accordingly, this board endorses Laura Nicol for the Texas House, District 133.

House District 135
State Representative Gary Elkins kept a rather low profile last legislative session, mostly staying out of the spotlight throughout contentious moments, and merely becoming one of the rank-and-file in the Republican caucus, voting for many of the unacceptable policies.

However, Elkins’ great claim to fame came in the 2011 legislative session, when Elkins was one of the most instrumental forces behind the killing of a bill designed to reign in the usurious excesses of payday lenders. This, despite the fact that Elkins had a financial interest in no fewer than a dozen such lenders. His massive conflict of interest even drew the ire and rebuke of compatriots within his own party. However, this past session, Elkins was yet again a driving force behind the utter lack of any meaningful action to limit the despicable excesses of these loan sharks.

We don’t really know much about Elkins’ Democratic opponent, Moiz Abbas. Frankly, we don’t really care. Either vote for him or undervote if you do not want to play roulette with your ballot. Either way, this board believes that you shouldn’t vote for Elkins.

House District 137
State Representative Gene Wu was named by this board as the Best Member of the Texas House in our rankings last session. We obviously believe that he deserves another chance to represent his constituents at the Capitol. At the time, we lauded Wu’s steadfast dedication to both doing the right thing in the House and trying to deliver up-to-the-minute information to his constituents via social media.

As we said last year, the most impression action on the part of Wu –in our eyes– was his fiery pushback against a bill that would have criminalized so-called “ballot harvesting,” essentially making it illegal to be a Good Samaritan seeking others in voting. Thanks to the needed media attention to this bill that Wu was instrumental in orchestrating, the bill’s most draconian sections were nixed in the Senate.

We find Wu’s Republican opponent, Morad Fiki, to be a man with noble intentions, but he is just not right for the 137th District. The people of Sharpstown deserve a true leader who will vehemently defend their interests and fight on their behalf. Thus, this board endorses Gene Wu for the Texas House, District 137.

House District 144
The incumbent State Representative, Mary Ann Perez, a Democrat, faces no credible opposition. We have largely been satisfied with her work as a legislator. Thus, this board endorses her for the Texas House, District 144.

House District 146
The incumbent State Representative, Borris Miles, a Democrat, faces no credible opposition. We have largely been satisfied with his work as a legislator. Thus, this board endorses Borris Miles for the Texas House, District 146.

House District 148
State Representative Jessica Farrar has represented her constituents well for nearly twenty years. As the Chair of the House Democratic Caucus, she is the de facto Minority Leader in the lower house. In this role, she has been spectacularly receptive and accommodating to the needs of everyday Texans. From social issues to economic hurdles, the middle class and poor of Texas have few greater advocates in the State Government than Farrar. She has a solid track record on leadership, and her constituents would be wise to send her back to the Legislature once more.

Farrar’s Republican opponent, Chris Carmona, represents a new brand of Republicanism. He is younger, more inclusive and more pragmatic than most of his compatriots who hold high office. We wish him the best of luck in future endeavors and in any campaign to reign in the partisan extremes of his political party, but he is not right for the 148th District. Jessica Farrar is.

As the Vice-Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, Farrar nobly leads on both law & order issues and justice issues. She bravely introduced legislation recently that would abolish the death penalty in Texas, a position to which we have concurred to consistently.

Accordingly, this board endorses Jessica Farrar for the Texas House, District 148.

House District 149
Representative Hubert Vo has served as a good representative for his community for many terms. He meets his constituents and is receptive to their concerns. We think the voters of the 149th District would be wise to stick with their advocate in Austin and vote for Vo once more.

By Hoang’s own admission, his candidacy is all about Vo’s opposition to an omnibus anti-abortion bill last year aimed at shutting down abortion clinics. This board proudly stands with Vo against the misguided piece of legislation, but we think that a political campaign should consist of far more than that. Of course, Hoang, who served on the Houston City Council until being thrown out by voters last November, should know that. Vo was right on that issue, but —more importantly— he is right on the way that he effectively governs in the neighborhood.

Accordingly, this board endorses Hubert Vo for the Texas House, District 149.

House District 150
What can we say about State Representative Debbie Riddle, the Tea Party Republican who has represented this district in northwestern Harris County for many years? She is, at the core, a hateful person who all too often seeks to demonize members of the community in order to prove a political point. In 2012, she got into an online feud with a Law Student of Pakistani descent. After he critiqued the current foreign policy of this country, Riddle derided him in xenophobic fashion that he should move to Afghanistan, and a broad array of other sanctimonious and hateful notions.

Unfortunately, this is not the only such incident that Riddle has engaged in. She has lambasted the society-accepted idea of free education, characterizing it as a socialist scheme that came from, and we quote, “the pit of hell.”

Thankfully for the voters of the 150th District, they have another option. Amy Perez, a schoolteacher, is a smart and energetic Democratic candidate that presents herself as a respectful, pragmatic and intelligent alternative to Riddle. She supports offsetting the harmful cuts done to public schools in recent legislative sessions, while Riddle evidently thinks their very existence is inherently hellish.

Accordingly, this board endorses Amy Perez for the Texas House, District 150.

The Texpatriate Editorial Board is comprised of Noah M. Horwitz & Olivia Arena of Austin, George Bailey of Boston, Luis Fayad of College Station and Andrew Scott Romo of New Orleans. Editorials represent a majority opinion of the board.

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!

Hoang vs. Vo

The Houston Chronicle reports that Al Hoang, the two term member of the Houston City Council recently defeated by political newcomer Richard Nguyen, will be continuing his political career in a new way: running for the Texas House. Hoang will reportedly challenge incumbent Hubert Vo, a Democrat and the only Vietnamese-American member of the legislature, in District 149. Hoang, an ostensibly moderate Republican (he endorsed Mayor Parker), is waging much more of a partisan campaign this time.

Interestingly, some made veiled accusations that it was Vo and associates of his who originally propped up Nguyen to run against Hoang. However, this makes little sense. Nguyen mentioned in his interview with us that he is a Republican, and for rather unapologetic conservative rationale (…because I believe strongly in the US Constitution). Even Morris’ article notes that Hoang received some negative publicity for supporting deescalation with Vietnam.

Click here to read about Hoang’s campaign strategy!

2013 results and analysis

We’re working on trying to abridge the hours and hours of livestreamed Texpatriate election return coverage into about 20 minutes of the top hits. Yesterday, our all-time view record was demolished as thousands of people appeared to come to our website to read up on candidates before they voted. Additionally, Richard Nguyen, the victor in District F, had little impact on the internet besides his interview with Texpatriate.

First and foremost, Mayor Annise Parker was decisively re-elected to a third and final term as Mayor of Houston. She cruised to over 57% of the vote, far outpacing the amount of the vote she received in 2011. Meanwhile, Controller Ronald Green also was re-elected, albeit by a much smaller margin. The only surprises amongst City Council races were in At-large 3 and District F, respectively. Otherwise, most incumbents cruised to re-election.

All nine Statewide propositions passed, as did Harris County Proposition 1 (the joint processing center/jail). The Astrodome referendum, however, did not pass, as the iconic 8th Wonder of the World now looks condemned to demolition.

Click here to see full results and read more!

More Chronicle endorsements

About a week ago, the Chronicle fielded its first two municipal endorsements: in District D and the Controller’s race. In the days since, the paper has made selections in seven more races, including three bitterly contested contests, not the least of which is the Mayoral election.

First, the Chronicle endorsed Jerry Davis for re-election in District B, much similar to the Texpatriate Editorial Board’s decision a couple weeks ago. The rationale was somewhat similar, a decision that Councilmember Davis had done a good job in office and should not be replaced without a good reason–one of which was not present.

Next, the paper endorsed Oliver Pennington for re-election in District G, again just as Texpatriate had earlier. The editorial, however, was painfully short on details, and seemed to be lacking a real reason to vote for Councilmember Pennington besides his incumbency. Typically, the Chronicle tries to avoid this.

The paper also continued to lob easy endorsements, such as Al Hoang for District F and Stephen Costello for At-large position #1. Texpatriate made the same recommendations, (Hoang and Costello, respectively) once again. This alignment should not be all that surprising, as all of these individuals are running with very little opposition. Accordingly, nearly everyone making endorsements will come to this conclusion.

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Texpatriate endorses in District F

Al Hoang was first elected to the City Council in 2009. The year, long before the founding of this blog, was the one when each and every member of this board began working at City Hall. The members of this board were active within the political community even back then, and many worked with the local municipal campaigns of the time. One member of this board worked with Al Hoang’s campaign.

Hoang faced Mike Laster, a longtime stalwart in the community, in the general election at the time. While Laster was indeed an admirable candidate, Hoang’s campaign’s skills in mobilizing support from among the community was, in this board’s opinion, nothing short of amazing. Receiving huge chunks of the vote in early voting, Hoang surprised just about everyone when he was first swept into office in 2009.

In the four years since taking office, Hoang has continued to do his part for the community. Remaining active within the local scene, Hoang has successfully worked to remain connected and responsive to his constituents. This board believes such attributes are invaluable traits for a public servant.

Despite coming from a conservative community of South Vietnamese expats, Hoang has fought for what he believes is correct for the greater good. This board lauds the courage Hoang showed by supporting a recent trade mission by the Mayor to Vietnam. The incident drew strong rebuke from many in Hoang’s home community, climaxing in a man pointing a gun at the Councilmember. However, even in the face of danger and adversity, Hoang stood strong on his principles. Further, this board believes Hoang has made inroads into fostering a more bipartisan legacy for himself, publicly endorsing the incumbent Democratic Mayor this election.

This board believes Councilmember Hoang’s tenure on the City Council thus far was been widely successful, combining his ability to deliver for the community with being a pragmatic leader unafraid of doing something unpopular if it is right. Hoang’s only opposition in this election is from a man named Richard Nguyen. Nguyen has been an active opponent of Hoang in recent years, and has dragged the Councilmember into often ludicrous conspiracy theories. Indeed, he was the campaign manager in 2011 for Etienne Nguyen, the aforementioned individual who threatened Hoang’s life.

Accordingly, this board endorses Al Hoang in District F, as both the best choice and an honorable for the voters of his district.

The Texpatriate Editorial Board is comprised of Olivia Arena of Austin, George Bailey & Noah M. Horwitz of Boston and Andrew Scott Romo of New Orleans.