Texpatriate endorses for County Treasurer

Upon first glance, the office of County Treasurer is useless. It is rather compelling, even, to argue for its abolition. What does it do? We’re not even completely sure. Something involving fiscal stewardship and being a direct intermediary between the government funds and the people. Our confusion is prompted by the fact that the incumbent, Orlando Sanchez, has done a rather lackluster job in office. For the past eight years, he has done little of consequence. As far as we can tell, the only time he has ever come out of the woodwork was to bluntly grandstand against METRO Buses that portrayed pro-Houston Texans messages. Nothing about fiscal prudence, nothing about transparency and nothing about working together with the public in a more effective way.

Granted, following the tumultuous tenure of former County Treasurer Dom Sumners in the 1990s, the County Commissioners’ Court stripped the post of many of its powers, rendering it comparably feckless. And the process to abolish the office would be long and costly. A Texas constitutional amendment would be a necessity, requiring 2/3rds votes of the Legislature and a statewide referendum. It would be a hard process, but left to our own devices, we’d probably see it through none the less.

But David Rosen, the Democratic challenger for this post, insists that the office is salvageable and that it can do good things nonetheless. He touts a plan to make county expenses accessible to the general public and to be an ally for all those who wish to examine the government’s coffers. Under current practices, the county expenses are buried amid a massive PDF file. These are the same tactics used by elusive attorneys looking to bury information during the discovery phase of litigation; it is unbecoming of the county’s ostensible fiscal watchdog. Rosen promises to streamline this process, making it easier to navigate and more search friendly. He also wishes to rescind the reforms taken by the Commissioners, and allow the office to audit, budget and forecast.

Rosen also wishes to use the office as a bully pulpit to advocate for domestic partnership benefits for county employees, irrespective of sexual orientation. While we wholeheartedly agree with his position, we do retain some concerns about if it is the proper role of the County Treasurer to be advocating for such positions.

Sanchez, on the other hand, has been completely silent on the campaign trail. We don’t what he would stand for or what he would do. Judging by his track record in office, not much. He also opposes abolishing the office, but he doesn’t support doing anything productive with it either.

Thus, even though we believe the office would be better off a relic of the past, Rosen is the right choice. His heart is in the right place, and he would implement reforms that would give the office a fighting chance of relevance and effectiveness. He would even go above and beyond to retain some important auditing and budgeting responsibilities. Giving the office some real power would justify its existence, and we would gladly like to see Rosen do this.

Accordingly, this board endorses David Rosen for Harris County Treasurer.

The Texpatriate Editorial Board is comprised 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 voting board.

Texpatriate’s Questions for David Rosen

Editorial note: This is the fourteenth in our series of electronic interviews with candidates for Statewide and Harris County offices. We have sent questionnaires to every candidate on the ballot, given we could find a working email address. We have printed their answers verbatim as we receive them. If you are or work for such a candidate, and we did not send a questionnaire, please contact us <info@texpate.com>.

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David Rosen, Democratic candidate for Harris County Treasurer

Texpatriate: What is your name?
DR: David Rosen

T: How long have your held this post? What number term are you seeking?
DR: I am a challenger to an incumbent. I do not hold this post, and I am seeking what would be my first term.

T: Please list all the elected or appointed POLITICAL (including all Judicial) offices you have previously held, and for what years you held them.
DR: I have never held an elected or appointed political office.

T: What is your political party?
DR: I am a Democrat.

T: What do you think the role of the County Treasurer should be?
DR: You deserve to know where your money is going. As your Harris County Treasurer, I will create an online portal where anyone with an internet connection can see money going in and out of our local government coffers in as close to real-time as possible. This data is currently uploaded once a month by the incumbent in the form of a gigantic PDF file. I want to make this data searchable and user-friendly, similar to how former District Clerk Loren Jackson made the data flowing in and out of that office more navigable. This information should be available to any person at any time for any reason. If elected County Treasurer, I will act as if I was the Chief Transparency Officer of Harris County.

Harris County government is in desperate need for more transparency. In the last six years, three of our Constables have been indicted and a County Commissioner and County Budget Officer both resigned their offices, all because of alleged financial improprieties.

In other counties, the County Treasurer may also have some finance, auditing, forecasting or budgeting responsibilities. The office of Harris County Treasurer has largely been relegated to serve in an accounts payable/accounts receivable function. I would like to see Commissioners Court restore some of the responsibilities to this office that were stripped from the County Treasurer in the mid-1990s, when Don Sumners held the position.

I also want to use this office to do some social good – to partner with local non-profits that teach basic personal finance and financial literacy to young people in Harris County’s roughest neighborhoods.

T: Do you believe that the incumbent has specifically failed at her or his job? If so, why?
DR: The longer my opponent remains in office, the less relevant and the less visible this office becomes. Most people have never heard of the County Treasurer unless they received a check for serving as a juror. So far as I know, in my opponent’s eight years in office, he has only publicly issued two official opinions: first, he spoke up against interest rate default swaps (years after the interest rate default swaps went sour), and secondly, he said the scrolling marquees on Metro buses should not display the words “Go Texans!”

I would challenge anyone who is thinking of voting for my opponent to go to the County Treasurer’s new website and see for themselves how our monthly expenditures are displayed.

You deserve better. You deserve to know where your money is going.

T: Why you, as opposed to your opponents?
DR: I am a lifelong Houstonian, the son of two local public schoolteachers and a former Student Body President at the University of Houston. I work in communications at an offshore engineering company and at night I am earning my MBA from the University of Houston’s C.T. Bauer College of Business. I am set to graduate in May of next year.

I am the only candidate in this race who is campaigning on a specific platform of changes to be made to this office and to local policy. I am running with the support of hundreds of Democrats, independents and Republicans from across Harris County.

My opponent is an entrenched part of the system that I am trying to change.

I am the only candidate in this race who has not been sanctioned by the Texas Ethics Commission on four separate occasions. I am the only candidate in this race who has not run for office ten different times for four different positions. I am the only candidate in this race who is not named Orlando Sanchez.

T: There has recently been talk of abolishing this office, much like the former position of State Treasurer. Is this a good idea? Why or why not?
DR: Former Republican primary candidate for County Treasurer Arnold Hinojosa and former Democratic County Treasurer nominee Richard Garcia have both publicly said that they support abolishing this position. I believe that such criticism from both sides of the political spectrum is more of a reflection on the guy who holds the office rather than a reflection of the office itself.

We need more people, not fewer people, watching our public money. If used properly, this office can be a powerful tool to shine a light on local government spending.

The office of State Treasurer was abolished in 1995 and its duties were absorbed by the State Comptroller, a similar office that is directly answerable to the voters. There is no similar public elected office in Harris County that would absorb the duties of the County Treasurer if the position was abolished.

Abolishing the County Treasurer’s office would require an amendment to the State Constitution. It is not as simple as pressing a button or flipping a switch – it would be a long, expensive process that would require a statewide vote.

The office of County Treasurer has been abolished in eight Texas counties, but none since the 1980s. In the past, Commissioners Courts around Texas have threatened to abolish the office when those Commissioners have clashed politically with the person holding the office of County Treasurer. This happened in Fort Bend County in 2005, for instance, in Harris County in the 1990s when Don Sumners was County Treasurer, and again more recently in 2007. All three of those attempts failed.

T:  The Democratic nominee for this position has advocated creating same-sex partner benefits for the employees of Harris County. Is this desirable? Furthermore, is this an appropriate issue for the County Treasurer (if so, why)?
DR: My parents are the reason that I got involved in politics. They taught me that if I had three meals a day to eat and a roof over my head, that I should consider myself lucky, and that I owed it to my community to try to make things better for other people.

My parents retired last year after working for more than 70 combined years as public schoolteachers in the Houston area. They have been together 28 years and they are married, but because of their sexual orientation they are still not able to share health insurance. This is a tremendous financial hardship that was placed on my working-class family for no reason other than because my parents are gay.

I have been calling for marriage equality and insurance equality since long before I ever became a candidate for County Treasurer, and I will continue talking about this issue until couples like my parents are finally treated equally under the law.

T: What are the three most important issues to you, and what is at least one thing you have done to address each of them?
DR: 1)      Equality for my GLBT friends and family members – the fight for GLBT equality can only be described as my generation’s civil rights movement. This is an issue that is also tremendously important to me and my family, since I was raised by two Moms. Earlier this year, I released a campaign video featuring my gay parents and touting my support for gay rights – so far as we know, this is the first time that an American political candidate with GLBT parents has featured their family in an advertisement. From the outset of this campaign, I have called for same-sex partner benefits to be offered to the employees of Harris County. In May, I had the privilege of sharing our story in OutSmart Magazine. Later that month we appeared as a family on KPFT’s radio show Queer Voices. 

2)      Getting the next generation of activists involved in local politics – I am thrilled to campaign alongside volunteers from the Lamar High School Young Democrats, the Rice Young Democrats, and a group called West U for Progress.

3)      Mentoring young people in my former neighborhood of Alief – joining the debate team in 7th grade at Killough Middle School changed my life for the better. My former coach, Mrs. Sandra Jones, was one of the most important people from my childhood and she is still a good friend. I have mentored students on the debate team at Killough as a volunteer debate coach, 15 years after I was captain of the same debate team.