In re Runoff election dates

The Houston Chronicle reports that a City Council committee, the Elections Committee, discussed a proposal to move election day in runoff elections to a Tuesday, and not the current system of Saturday election dates. This would not affect the 2013 election dates.

Early voting includes two days of weekend voting, with some pretty generous hours. In a wonderful irony regarding voter suppression, Texas actually has pretty great laws involving early votes. Massachusetts, by comparison, has no early voting, and absolutely no attempts are made to synchronize elections (e.g., there is a congressional special election in October three weeks before a regularly scheduled municipal election). However, one of the highlights of our runoff election system has been a Saturday election.

This is because, even though it is possible to otherwise vote on a weekend, some people really, really enjoy voting on election day. There is something special to them about being able to walk down the road and interact with everyone in the community. It is significantly easier to do this on a Saturday than on a Tuesday.

The Chronicle article notes that, because most voting locations (such as schools) are closed on Saturdays, the City must reimburse these locations for keeping the building open. David Feldman, the City Attorney, makes the note that shifting the election day could save hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Additionally, last night’s poll also evidently measured support for this possible changes. 56% of respondents favored this change, and the number rose to 71% when the monetary effects were brought into the question.

Bob Stein of Rice, interviewed by both the City Council and the Chronicle, noted that this could depress voter turnout, most likely because of the aforementioned reasons.

The meeting showed rare harmony between the Parker administration and its biggest critic, Vice-Mayor Pro Tem C.O. Bradford. Feldman, assuming he is speaking on behalf of Parker, and Bradford were the proposals biggest backers, while Melissa Noriega and Mike Laster, two of the Council’s more liberal members, were far more opposed.

For what it is worth, I believe that any proposal like this that sacrifices voter turnout for a reduction of expenses is a repugnant action on the part of any Democrat. I agree that these “hundreds of thousands of dollars” spent is a problem, but perhaps it would be better to solve the source of the problem rather than assuaging its demands. It is absurd that HISD would charge for these elections, especially since the Board of Trustees holds concurrent elections. The real solution to this problem would be a negotiation between the City of Houston, HISD and Harris County that drastically lowers the amount paid for use the election facilities.

On the Mayor’s race and Schools

Lisa Falkenberg at the Houston Chronicle wrote a stunning op-ed that has everybody buzzing. In it, she interviewed Hall, who went on a light rant about how he still honestly believes there is a chance to victory for himself, and why he specifically ran against Annise Parker.

Given that Parker is a relatively well-regarded incumbent who managed to avoid major scandal and any resounding cries of incompetence, why is Hall running? Why throw good money – mostly his own – after bad odds?

“In fact, the odds are that I’m going to win,” Hall responded, making it clear that he also disagreed with my “ludicrous” assumption that Parker is generally doing a good job. He most often mentioned her “pension fund neglect” and “mismanagement of assets” in the budget, and her silence on the problems in Houston schools.

As to his reasons for running for mayor, Hall explained that he wants to give voters a real choice. It was a decision he made several years ago, he said, but he had to pray for God’s guidance in choosing the right time and to give his reluctant wife “a spirit of acceptance” about the idea.

What I find most interesting about Hall’s comments was the line about the “a decision he made several years ago.” This, precisely, is why I have been so tepid about Hall’s candidacy thus far. When someone runs against an incumbent, she or he must adequately prove why the present incumbent is bad for the populace and why an opposition candidate such as her or himself is needed. I realize that Hall is ostensibly doing this, drudging up some minor issues like the alleged pension trouble, or even the bizarre issue I will discuss below, but comments like this one tell me that the candidacy is more about his ego than saving the City from his fellow Democrat.

Falkenberg goes on to talk about Hall’s animosity towards the Mayor, and vice versa. According to Hall, Mayor Parker was rude and vulgar with him. As the Chronicle article continues about the exchanges:

Hall believes part of the problem may be Parker’s “strident” leadership style, a bit of which he’s experienced during his few private encounters with her. The first time they met, at a University of Houston event, Hall said, the two shook hands and he recalls the mayor saying “ ’It’s nice meeting you. I’m going to whip your ass so bad that you’ll never run for public office again.’ ” At which point, Hall said, “I immediately told my friend, ‘My goodness, I now know what’s wrong with the city.’ ”

Hall then described a later exchange after the Juneteenth Parade. After introducing himself again, Hall says Parker responded, “I’m glad you keep introducing yourself to me because I keep forgetting who you are.”

Asked whether Hall’s recollections of the exchanges were accurate, Parker spokeswoman Sue Davis said in a statement: “Ben Hall needs to man up. The mayor did not use those exact words and she certainly didn’t curse. But it’s not surprising that Mr. Hall’s response to a confident woman leader is to call her names. Yesterday, Mr. Hall sent out a public statement calling the mayor a liar. What kind of leadership is that?”

I have known the Mayor personally for about four years now, and can say with all confidence that she would never curse at someone adverse to her. Falkenberg then closes her article with a complimentary tone towards Hall’s campaign, ending with a statement that Hall has made “this a better race.” For the life of me, I have never been able to figure out just what about Hall’s campaign is “over-inspiring,” as Falkenberg puts it. The campaign is pitifully light on substance, and it does hover on substance, it is all too brief.

Brains & Eggs and Texas Leftist have more.

This brings me to my second point. Recently, the Houston Chronicle reported on Ben Hall making an all-too-brief point about the City of Houston possibly taking over HISD. The position is not all that ludicrous, but like the other points in his campaign, there is no substance attached to it. It almost appears as that Ben Hall is just saying things in order to say things; seeing if anything sticks to the wall and attracts voters. Perhaps this is why Falkenberg went lukewarm for him, just waiting on him to capitalize and detail his many interesting ideas.

Off the Kuff has the best summary of this issue:

As with the other two points Hall noted, having to do with economic opportunity and crime prevention, this is what I find so frustrating about Hall’s candidacy. There’s absolutely no detail in this suggestion – I can hardly call it an “idea” with so little substance to it. There’s nothing to indicate what Hall would do as Mayor to this goal of providing the “best possible education that any school district or human history can provide”. Hall brushes aside the Mayor’s point about lacking any statutory authority, but the fact remains that unlike some cities, the Mayor of Houston doesn’t appoint a school chancellor or superintendent, and we have multiple independent school districts with independently elected school boards that have taxing authority and set their own budgets. Some of these school districts are quite large – HISD, Alief, Spring Branch, Kingwood, Cy-Fair – some are small, they cover turf that includes Houston and not-Houston, and they all have their own identity and governing philosophy. While I’m sure that most of them would be willing to work with the city on certain items, I’m equally sure none of them will cede any of their legal rights and responsibilities without a fight that the city would lose because it has no grounds to assert any authority over them. I truly have no clue what Hall has in mind when he says stuff like this. While it’s possible that he’s such a visionary that I can’t even see the box he thinking outside of, it’s also possible that he’s completely unclear about what office it is he’s running for and what that job entails. In the absence of further information, I have to lean towards the latter interpretation.