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!

Early voting begins

The Houston Chronicle notes that early voting for December 14th’s municipal runoff election has officially begun. I have yet to receive my absentee ballot, though I have three layers of confounding incompetent bureaucracy (Harris County Clerk, US Postal Service and my university’s mailroom) to deal through, so I have faith it is somewhere between Houston & Boston at press time.

The incumbents in the top two municipal elections (Mayor Annise Parker and City Controller Ronald Green, respectively) were both re-elected outright last month, meaning that only an assortment of City Council races will be on next Saturday’s ballot. Specifically, at-large Positions #2 and #3, as well as Districts A, D & I. There are also a few HCC Trustee races with runoff elections, though these only cover a portion of the City.

Click here to read summaries of all the runoff elections!

Passport kiosks at Bush Airport

The Houston Chronicle (paywall) reports that the Houston City Council will discuss a measure tomorrow aimed at decreasing the amount of time spent in customs at Bush airport. Specifically, the airport (which is indirectly run by the City) is asking to install “automated passport-control kiosks” in the custom lines.

As the Chronicle article notes, the machines “allows travelers to scan their own passports, complete paperwork and confirm their travel information.” Thereafter, the traveler would still be forced to communicate/converse with a customs agent, mostly to double check and confirm everything. According to both the Chronicle article and similar studies, these use of these machines significantly reduces waiting times. This is because simple-though-time-consuming tasks take up the time of many of the limited number of customs officers. One caveat of the program is that it is limited to US Citizens.

Click here to continue reading!

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!

Election Watch Parties

Texpatriate will be offering comprehensive election night coverage tomorrow evening. Noah M. Horwitz will begin the evening at 5:30 (Houston time), live from Boston, offering color commentary and predictions for the final 90 minutes of Election Day. At the conclusion of voting, he will be joined by George Bailey to begin a full program, where the two will switch off between reading results and analyzing numbers. Texpatriate will be calling races and projecting victories in certain races before all votes will be counted.

Bailey & Horwitz will be joined in intermittent commentary throughout the proceedings by Andrew Scott Romo in New Orleans and Olivia Arena in Austin. Additionally, Texpatriate‘s Staff Writer Sophia Arena will be livestreaming from Annise Parker’s watch party in Downtown Houston.

We will provide a link to this livestream coverage on our website. Starting tomorrow afternoon, the first link on texpate.com should be an embedded video. Pre-coverage starts at 5:30, full program begins at 7:00 and the full program will end no later than 11:00. If there are any races still undecided at that time, Horwitz will stay on air as long as they are counting votes.

Click here to read about Candidates’ watch parties!

Why “a runoff” is good

Contrary to majority opinion, a Mayoral runoff –at least for a nominally liberal individual such as myself– is good. In recent days, we have been hearing the news from the Chronicle and other blogs that Parker has begun to pull away from Hall, and could very well garner over 50% in the November election. Robert Miller recently wrote that Parker has a “better than 50% chance” of winning outright. If you are a Parker fan, as I suspect many readers of this blog are, it would appear to be logical that this is good news. However, one could not be further from the truth.

Democrat voters are lazy. The preceding statement, while often controversial, is extremely true nonetheless. Presidential elections, those with higher turnout, see outcomes significantly more amicable to the Democratic Party in this State. As voter turnout drops into the low single-digits, Republicans become more and more successful in the heavily Democratic city of Houston.

For example, in the 2011 At-large position #5 election, the incumbent Jolanda Jones garnered a full 39% of the vote. Laurie Robinson, a likewise Democrat, earned a further 20% of the vote. According to reasonable inferences, Jones should have crushed her opposition in a runoff with close to 60% of the vote. However, when runoff election day came, Jack Christie defeated Jones with over 54% of the vote, rising over 21-points in the polls in the interim. The rise of 21 percentage points, however, was offset by actually about receiving 5000 fewer votes. This was possible because of a devastating drop in voter turnout. Without the Mayor’s race at the top of the ticket, over 1/3 of the electorate stayed home, allowing candidates severely out-of-touch from the interests of Houstonians to get elected.

Click here to read more about how this affects this year’s election!

From the mail…

For those readers of this blog who are not also Facebook friends with me, one may not know that I am in Houston this weekend. Among other reasons, I wanted to do a little bit of campaigning for my father (James Horwitz) as well as attend the Johnson-Richards-Rayburn dinner.

I have seen a variety of familiar faces at the early voting locations, including (but not limited to) Roland Chavez, Eric Dick, Michael Kubosh and Assata Richards. Also, as I was walking out of the polling place yesterday (after voting), I literally walked into Ted Cruz. But that is another story for another day.

When I got home today, I found some campaign literature by the front door (most of which, my dogs did not eat/destroy). Among these were fairly unexciting mailers from the “Save the Dome” people and the Ronald Green campaign. The “Texas Conservative Review” came in the mail as well. Again, somewhat unexciting. The only surprise was the endorsement of Ben Hall for Mayor, and that is simply because of the sheer ubiquity of Eric Dick advertisements throughout the booklet.

Click here to read about the vicious mailer attacking a Councilmember!

Texpatriate endorses in At-large position #2

This board did not support Councilmember Burks when he ran for the City Council two years ago, but we extended a clean slate to him upon his inauguration, giving him a fresh start to prove his leadership skills and ability as a public servant. Sadly, after nearly two years in office, Councilmember Burks has little to show for his tenure besides a string of sometimes bizarre actions and unfortunate votes.

In September 2012, Councilmember Burks infamously opposed relaxed restrictions on food trucks. The reason he provided was an irrational fear that conglomerations of food trucks (specifically, their propane tanks) could be used by terrorists. The faulty logic, which was repeatedly debunked, has been reaffirmed by Councilmember Burks on multiple occasions.

This board was also saddened to see Councilmember Burks’ support of a bill that criminalizes sharing food with the homeless on public property. However, more importantly, Councilmember Burks has reaffirmed this position as well, declining to speak out against the excesses of the new ordinance.

However, above all else, this board has been disturbed to see the unprofessional way Councilmember Burks has conducted himself at recent City Council meetings, including an “interrogation” of a constituent expressing grievances at a Public Forum meeting this past April. In another recent City Council meeting, Councilmember Burks admonished those delinquent on their taxes, while he owed over $100,000 to the Internal Revenue Service himself. The hypocrisy was lost on the Councilmember, however.

Read more for our selection…

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’s Questions for Andrew Burks

Editorial note: This is the thirty-second 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.

City Councilmember Andrew C. Burks, At-large position #2

Texpatriate: What is your name?
AB: Andrew C. Burks Jr.

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