Catching up, Part I

In the last week, no shortage of big news has transpired down at City Hall. Coincidentally, I was down there three or four days of the past week, but mostly heard the big news secondhand. Perhaps most importantly, as the Houston Chronicle reports, Mayor Annise Parker has officially nominated her new City Attorney to replace David Feldman, who announced his resignation last month. The nominee is Donna Edmundson, who — if confirmed — would become the first woman to take the city’s top legal job. She has a lengthy and impressive career on the fourth floor, working there for nearly thirty years (straight out of law school).

Among Edmundson’s accomplishments in the past have been working tirelessly against gangs in high-risk neighborhoods, as well as being instrumental in reaching the 2013 deal between Parker and the strip club cabal. Needless to say, the City Attorney’s office will be in capable hands with Edmundson.

The announcement largely took the political community by surprise, as Edmundson was undoubtedly an under-the-radar pick. Many had expected either Lynette Fons, the First Assistant City Attorney, or Steven Kirkland, a Municipal Judge and former Civil District Judge, to be selected.

Standing besides Parker at the press conference that unveiled Edmundson’s selection were City Councilmembers Dwight Boykins (D-District D) and Jack Christie (R-At Large 5), respectively, who both voiced their support of the nomination. The bipartisan support is expected to continue, and Edmundson could easily be confirmed unanimously. The timing is somewhat important, as Feldman — whose last year in office was rocked over the controversial non-discrimination ordinance — is planning on testifying in the upcoming NDO trial.

For those unfamiliar, the NDO prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity and a plethora of other demographics in employment (15+ employees) and places of public accommodation. Most of those categories (the notable exceptions being sexual orientation and gender identity) are already protected by state and federal regulations, but this ordinance makes legal options considerably easier/cheaper. Obviously, the protections for the LGBT community garnered those same trite homophobic reactions and blowback, although the Parker administration did foul up the roll-out of the ordinance. I contend that some of the ordinance’s strongest critics, such as Councilmember Michael Kubosh, could have been amenable to supporting the bill if Parker had not been so confrontational and divisive about the whole matter.

Anyways, opponents gathered enough signatures to force a referendum on this topic, but the City Attorney’s office — going around City Secretary Anna Russell, who had certified the petitions — disqualified most of the signatures. Off the court the whole thing went, which brings us to the present.

The Houston Chronicle reports that the trial over these petition certifications will occur on January 20th in the court of Civil District Judge Robert Schaffer, a Democrat. This past week, arguments took place regarding whether or not the case should be a jury trial or a bench trial (decided by the Judge). At the City Council meeting on Wednesday, some members of the Council weighed in on the matter. Kubosh believed that the will of the people should be respected and, as such, a jury trial should be sought. City Councilmember C.O. Bradford (D-At Large 4), who is both an attorney and a supporter of the NDO, agreed that a jury trial would be ideal.

I tend to agree with their sentiment, but think that at the end of the day this is a legal and not a political issue. Schaffer is a very good judge, who checks his politics at the door. I think whatever decision he comes to will be a well-reasoned one.

Speaking of lawsuits, Friday hosted some other big news in municipal politics. Theodore Schleifer at the Houston Chronicle reports that a Federal Judge, Sim Lake (a Reagan nominee), has placed a preliminary injunction on Houston’s municipal fundraising rules, which disallow candidates from raising money before February 1st. Since nothing is expected to change in the next three weeks, the floodgates have officially opened for mayoral and council candidates to begin raising money.

Schliefer, in a subsequent Chronicle post, described the stampede of fundraising that is already abound and how, if the law is definitively declared unconstitutional later this year, it will change the dynamics of local politics. Meanwhile, a separate lawsuit will be heard tomorrow, initiated by former Congressman Chris Bell, a likely mayoral candidate. Bell, as I noted a few months back, has sued Sylvester Turner (D-Harris County), another mayoral candidate, arguing that he violated the spirit of municipal regulations last year when he raised money for an all-but-obsolete legislative account, then later plans to dump all the money into a mayoral account.

As I said back then and still believe, the local campaign finance regulations tend to do more harm than good. But it will be interesting, to say the least, seeing how it will affect the mayoral candidate on the horizon.

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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?

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).

Local odds and ends

In the days following the general election, a number of major actions have occurred at the local level. I’ve fallen a little bit behind, so instead of devoting separate posts to all of them, I will try to recap them altogether, since they all have a broadly City-related theme.

First, on Thursday, Judge Lisa Millard of the 310th (Family) District Court put yet another temporary restraining order on the City’s plan to offer full spousal benefits to same-sex spouses of city employees. The Houston Chronicle has outlined the full, nearly year-long, story on that front. Simply put, after Mayor Annise Parker announced the policy about a year ago, Millard placed a TRO on the matter. This, despite the fact that Millard is a Family judge and this case, concerning the constitutionality of a municipal regulation, undoubtedly belongs in a Civil District court (where most of the Judges are Democrats).

At the beginning of this year, the TRO was lifted after the case was moved into Federal Court. Although that Judge, Lee Rosenthal, later determined in August that the case need not be in Federal Court, a separate countersuit that resulted in a Federal holding in favor of the policy still stands. Accordingly, I’m confused as to what authority Millard has to contradict a Federal Judge. The constitution, which this case is ostensibly all about, is fairly clear about the supremacy of the Federal Government over the States. That’s Article VI, Clause II, for those of you playing at home.

If I had to make a guess, I would think that the Feds will once again step in and take this issue out of Millard’s hands. Short of that, I would not be surprised if a higher-up state court tosses this case into the Civil District benches. It is just wholly inappropriate for a judge who oversees divorces and the like to be prognosticating issues like the constitutionality of municipal policies. This is a bad decision from a bad judge, one who was unfortunately re-elected on Tuesday (unopposed as well, adding insult to injury).

The state of Texas’ constitution does clearly note that no subdivision of the state (such as a city) may recognize same-sex marriages. Accordingly, on its face, this policy does have some problems. But what Parker and City Attorney David Feldman argued has been that the US Supreme Court, in its 2013 decision United States v. Windsor, compels Houston to recognize such unions.

The second item of news is that the Parker administration has officially denied a petition effort to compel a referendum on the contentious “Homeless feeding” ordinance. Once again, Mike Morris and Katherine Driessen have the full story on that, over at the Houston Chronicle.

Way back in the spring of 2012, before this publication was even in existence, Parker and a bare-bones majority of the City Council passed a frustratingly silly ordinance that banned the sharing of food with homeless people on public land. Rightly so, the public was appalled by this asinine micromanagement, and an effort went underway to collect signature on a petition to force a referendum. In August 2012, the petitions were submitted, and then the waiting game began. More than a year later, one of the main drivers of this petition effort, Michael Kubosh, was elected to the City Council. Since taking office, he has reminded the administration nearly every week that he expected a decision on this petition effort.

Thursday afternoon, he got his answer, as the city officially denied the petitions. Much like the brouhaha over the Non-discrimination ordinance, nearly double the required minimum signatures were submitted, but half of them were denied. More specifically, about 35,000  names were given, but only about 17,500 were validated, short of the 19,000 required to force a referendum.

Kubosh, for his part, remained cordial and optimistic about the future. He told the Chronicle “I don’t want to have to accept it, but I’ll have to accept it and we’ll just have to figure out what to do next.”

First of all, from a political point of view, kudos to the Mayor’s office for waiting until after the election to wade into this controversial issue. Restraint and political acumen heralded the day here, unlike whatever “bonehead” in the legal department issued those unfortunate subpoenas to pastors regarding the NDO.

I always have been, and continue to be, a steadfast opponent of the ordinance. Criminalizing the sharing of food is just never a good strategy when it comes to the public relations battle, as national stories continue to suggest. If this would have come up for a vote, it would have gone down in flames.

Last, and probably least, there is yet another article in the Houston Chronicle that deals with a second lawsuit filed against the city’s fundraising rules regarding municipal candidates. As many will recall, former Congress Chris Bell, a likely Mayoral candidate, filed a state suit over the rules last month. This time, Trebor Gordon, a past and future candidate for the City Council, is challenging the rules in Federal court.

Gordon’s argument is that the fundraising ban before February 1st violates the First Amendment, as well as spirits of fairness given that elected officials in other offices can still raise money for their incumbent position, then transfer the money to their municipal accounts after February 1st. This is the key complaint of Bell, pointed toward State Representative Sylvester Turner (D-Harris County), the current arguable frontrunner.

“These exceptions codify a shocking bias toward incumbents and the political elite,” said Gordon’s attorney, Jerad Nevjar.

The article doesn’t note which position Gordon will run for, but I have to assume it’s at-large again. He ran a rather levelheaded campaign in 2013, but fell off the deep end earlier this year when talk of the NDO arose. He eventually blocked me and other social liberals from his Facebook after we took exception to his constant homophobic actions, including repeatedly linking homosexuality with bestiality and pedophilia. Now, Gordon notes that he was inspired to run again because of the aforementioned subpoena scandal.

I agree with him that the subpoenas were a poor choice, and I certainly agree that the fundraising rules are wrong — if not unconstitutional. But perhaps he is not the best messenger.

Texas will never turn blue

At least not in this political reality. I know, it’s a rather evocative headline, but the charts and stats I show below will hopefully convince you that the only thing that would guide Texas toward the left is huge national trends. As I have said before, I strongly believe that the Republican Party will go the way of the dodo in about 20 years or so, leaving behind a Democratic Party that gets so all-encompassing that it splits in two. Short of that, the GOP could realign in just as much of a substantial way. The great step to the right of the 1980s would be superseded by a step to the left in the 2030s, like the previous leftward step a century previous. The horrendous midterm results for Democrats have not shaken my belief that the Republicans are on a destruction course; in fact, it has only strengthened my resolve. However, the results specifically in Texas have lead me to believe that all the work of groups such as Battleground Texas has been in vain. There is little left to do now, for progressives, than to work together with moderate Republicans to elect pragmatic conservative candidates and to wait for the rising tides to guide Texas away from the rocks. I only wish it will not be too late by then.

State Senator Wendy Davis (D-Tarrant County), the Democratic candidate for Governor, lost her race by twenty points, 39-59. Governor-elect Greg Abbott performed better than Governor Rick Perry in all three of his elections. For the downballot elections, all the other Republicans won by comparably margins. The Lieutenant Governor’s race was the closest, with the Democrat losing by just more than 19 points, and the US Senate race being the biggest blowout, with Senator John Cornyn being re-elected by more than 27 points. The Republicans re-took the US Senate, meaning that — all other things being equal — Cornyn will now be the Majority Whip of the Senate.

Locally, Harris County went straight Republican, whereas Bexar County was a reddish shade of purple. Neither showed any improvement from 2010 (I didn’t realize how many judgeships the Democrats won in Bexar in 2010), though, with the big exception being that Nico LaHood (D) defeated Susan Reed (R) and was elected District Attorney in Bexar County. In Harris County, the GOP slate generally beat the Democratic one by about 10 points, though certain races were closer. DA Devon Anderson defeated her Democratic challenger, Kim Ogg, by only about six points. Though it is important to note this was just a special election for the post, and it will be right back on the ballot in just two years.

Davis’ State Senate also fell to the Republicans, specifically a woman named Konni Burton. This puts the party in control of 20/31 seats, just shy of the coveted 2/3rds needed to ramrod legislation through. However, Lieutenant Governor-elect Dan Patrick will likely disassemble that rule anyways. In the State House, the Republicans picked up three seats. State Representative-elect Wayne Faircloth (R-Galveston County) prevailed in the district currently held by retiring Democrat Craig Eiland. Meanwhile, State Representative Philip Cortez (D-Bexar County) was defeated by Rick Galinda and State Representative Mary Ann Perez (D-Harris County) was defeated by Gilbert Pena.

Also around the state, voters in Denton approved a measure to ban hydraulic fracturing (fracking) within the city limits. This has prompted the Oil & Gas Associated, as well as the General Land Office, to file suit against the city. Watch out for the Legislature passing a law disallowing these types of referendums next session.

Now, I’ve put together a few charts. First up, I compared the counties won by the gubernatorial candidates in 2010 (top) to those won in 2014 (bottom). Obviously, blue for the Democrat and red for the Republican.

Governor10

Governor14

Obviously, Davis won fewer counties than Bill White, the 2010 Democratic candidate. Most notably, she didn’t win Harris County, although it is important to note that White was a former Mayor of Houston and that Abbott is also a Houstonian. But Abbott also won three southern counties that White triumphed in. I don’t know if you could call locales like Kleberg County (fourth from the bottom on the coast) part of the Valley, but it is more than 70% Hispanic.

Davis did worse than White, worse than Chris Bell (2006 Dem nominee) and worse than Tony Sanchez (2002 Dem nominee). In fact, if you look at the margins of victory in recent gubernatorial elections, it appears as though the trend is for Democrats to do worse as time goes on –quite different than what common knowledge would have you believe.

Next, the same comparison for Lieutenant Governor:

Lt Gov10

Lt Gov14

Now, in 2010, the Democrats had a rather unremarkable candidate for Lieutenant Governor: Linda Chavez-Thompson. With only slightly more resources than Jim Hogan, she ran a truly awful campaign. And when she went up against Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst, she did even worse than the Democratic nominee this year. State Senator Leticia Van de Putte, the Democratic candidate, did win a net 2 more counties in the south, including Kleberg.

Moving onto Attorney General:

Attorney General10

Attorney General14

Sam Houston, the Democratic candidate for Attorney Genera, won a few more southern counties. He carried Jefferson County, the home of Beaumont (that blue speck in the right corner), the only Democrat by my calculations to do so.

Last, and probably least, the US Senate election:

Senate12

Senate14

Granted, this map compares David Alameel’s, the Democratic Senate candidate, performance to the 2012 election, but it is still striking. Alameel was the worst contender of all the Democratic ticket, and for good reason.

All in all, the Democrats did worse than four years ago. Downballot, they didn’t necessarily do as bad as some are claiming, mainly because Bill White outperformed the Democratic ticket in 2010 by A LOT. Davis outperformed them by a statistically insignificant amount, in comparison. Below, I have attached a line graph demonstrating the margins with which Republicans have won the non-Judicial statewide offices since 1998. I have omitted the 2000 Railroad Commission race and the 2010 Comptroller race because they lacked Democratic candidates and the 60 or 70-something margins would have skewered the graph:

Ranges

The other major point is that ticket-splitting has decreased rapidly. The range of the losses was about 37 points in 1998, decreased to about 25 points in 2002, 16 points in 2006, 17 points in 2010 and only 8 points last Tuesday. Like I have opined in the past, this is likely because of the growing stupidity of the average Texan, and the rise of “FOUR LEGS GOOD, TWO LEGS BAD” style straight-ticket voting.

Finally, I wanted to look into how much Democrats have improved in Bexar and Harris counties. Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet for finding just how Republican an election is in these counties before 2010, back when ticket-splitting was still commonplace. Ultimately, I settled on straight party voting, which is a rather bad barometer, but it beats nothing.

Bexar County

Harris County

These are bad measurements for a couple of reasons, namely that they overstate Democratic support. While Democrats received more straight ticket votes than Republicans in 2006 in Harris County, they still loss the whole county and all the positions. And 2000 wasn’t a close election either. But these graphs should just illustrate, rather unscientifically, that there is no meaningful improvement for Democrats in either county in midterm elections. If I have an abundance of time, I will average the margins of victory for all the countywide elections in a given election year to find a more accurate number.

As I have opined before, since Davis and the pack did not crack the 40% mark and did convincingly worse than 2010, Battleground Texas will be no more. Snuffed in its infancy. Either it will just fold in the next few weeks or its budget will be slashed so significantly that it will become a non-entity in practice. Most of the people running that rolling calamity will likely be out of a job. I’m going to leave my rationale for why the Democrats got whupped so monstrously to a latter post, but let’s just say there are quite a few reasons.

The most important reason, however, is that the average Texan is evidently both too stupid and too lazy to be bothered to participate in the political process. A pitiful 1/3 registered voters participated. Campaigns can do what they want to drive turnout, but until young people put down the blunt and the funyuns long enough to “occupy” a voting booth, nothing will get any better for the Democrats. Until other non-voters get up off their butts and stop being worthless, ‘poor and puny anonymities,’ politics will continue being dominated by the far-right. At the end of the day, however, in a democracy, people get the government they deserve. Lazy Texans will get that government many times over in the succeeding years.

Big Jolly Politics, Brains & Eggs (Parts I, II, III, IV), Eye on Williamson, Off the Kuff and Texas Leftist all have more.

Fundraising 2015

Theodore Scheifler at the Houston Chronicle has a great new story out today on the first big fight over the 2015 Mayoral election. As explained previously, the gaggle of politicians looking into the race are specifically prohibited from raising money for the contest until February of next year (the election will be in November 2015). Like I noted in my overview of the candidates last month, the likely candidates include both incumbent officeholders and non-incumbents. This is important because those who hold other offices may continue raising money for them while those who do not hold offices may not raise any money.

This has lead to a squabble between the the two arguable frontrunners: State Representative Sylvester Turner (D-Harris County) and former Congressman Chris Bell (D-TX25). Turner, a current officeholder, is a Mayoral candidate in all but name; and yet, he continues prolifically raising money that is ostensibly for his State Legislative races (Turner is running unopposed for the State House this November). Scheifler notes that, at a recent fundraiser, he took in more than $4000,000 alone. Bell, meanwhile, cannot do any of this because he does not currently hold any political office.

Bell and his law partner, Geoffrey Berg, have officially complained to City Attorney David Feldman about this policy. For friendly PACs and other campaign organizations, there is a hard limit of $10,000 that may be transferred into a Mayoral account. However, Feldman has interpreted the city’s finance rules to allow for incumbent officeholders to transfer the first $5,000 of a plausibly endless amount of individual donations into a Mayoral account.

Turner’s campaign had no statement, and I’m still waiting on Bell’s campaign to get back to me.

The point Berg makes in his letter, which is attached in the Chronicle article, is honestly somewhat compelling. He diligently cites the sentiment expressed at City Council when these provisions were pushed through in 2005, complete with detailed quotations from former City Attorney Arturo Michel, former City Councilmembers Carol Mims Galloway (D-District B) and Gordon Quan (D-At Large 2), respectively. The precedent they outlined, as well as the one followed by City Councilmember Ellen Cohen (D-District C) when she first ran for the post (Cohen had previously served as a State Representative. She had money in her account leftover and refunded it to contributors), is hard to argue with.

I’m not saying that the most prudent course of action would be limiting Turner to one $10,000 deposit of his State Rep money into his Mayoral account. I tend to think these blackout dates on fundraising are a little silly, and wouldn’t see any problem with Bell raising money now. In fact, I’d probably prefer it. My point is that the unequal treatment of the two candidates is what is unacceptable.

What do you think?

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?