It’s time to stop Houston City Council prayers

Most of the longtime readers of this publication will be familiar with how I, as well as everyone else affiliated with Texpatriate, first got my start in local politics. For three years throughout High School, I served with 33 other young people in an organization called the Mayor’s Youth Council. We would meet in Council chambers a few times a month, after hours, and debate the pertinent issues of the day in a way that mirrored the real City government. This included the agenda itself, complete with ordinances, pop-off debates and introductory pleasantries. These pleasantries included the pledge of allegiance and a prayer. Ostensibly, the prayer should have been non-sectarian, but given that each member of the Council would receive an opportunity to participate, many had inherently Christian messages. The very same thing happens at the Houston City Council. Of course, this is where the similarity ended.

Under the stewardship of a few people, namely Luis Fayad (the Mayor-equivalent of the MYC my first year and a current Texpatriate Editorial Board member), the prayers were removed from youth council proceedings. As you might imagine, individuals in the Mayor’s office had some fairly strong words for us as a result of our new policy. But we proceeded with it nonetheless. The world did not end because the church had to stop its influence at the town hall’s doors. In fact, the protections of religious liberty from our Constitution were made all the stronger because of it. It is past time for the Houston City Council and the Mayor to follow suit.

Ironically enough, the constitutionality of this miscarriage of justice is likely in a much stronger position today than it was in 2009 when my contemporaries first challenge the procedure. Last year, the Supreme Court held 5-4 in Town of Greece v. Galloway that a local municipality did not transgress the Establishment Clause of the 1st Amendment by holding sectarian prayers. However, more than a constitutional or legal point, these prayers should be done away with from a moral point of view.

Thomas Jefferson said it best that there should be “a wall of separation between Church & State.” Obviously, when a City Councilmember or the Mayor in their official capacity espouse religious rhetoric, the wall has not just been breached, but totally leveled.

One of the arguments used in Town of Greece to argue for the prayer’s illegality was that a City Council is quite different from, say, a State Legislature because of the inherent differences in the ways those bodies do business. Whereas a State Legislature simply meets and deliberates lawmaking, a City Council has tons of direct interaction with townspeople. Thus, Greece’s prayer, they argued, was directed at the entire town instead of just a pseudo-private interaction between individual lawmakers.

While the Supreme Court was not persuaded by that argument legally speaking, I still find it hard to argue against on a right/wrong level. When a City such as Houston has a Christian-themed prayer before an official meeting of its City Council, it inherently says that it is endorsing Christianity to its citizens.

Now, perhaps you would argue that there is nothing wrong with the government endorsing Christianity. Or, more expansively, merely endorsing religion over irreligion. The problem with this is that it goes against the multi-century history of this country. The faux religious influences in public life, such as “In God We Trust” on money or “Under God” in the pledge of allegiance, have not been around since time immemorial. Despite the claims of historical revisionists, both were only added in the 1950s.

Both the church and the state work immensely better when they are separated from one another. When, as Jefferson suggested, a great wall is erected between them, they can both work without outside adulterations. Stopping prayers, especially those of a sectarian nature, from occurring within the walls of City Hall would be great start.

For whatever reason, those advocating for the entanglement of church and state have always resorted to name-calling in order to demonstrate their point. I’ll likely be called Godless or Anti-Religion for espousing these points of view, when, in reality, I am neither. As a Jew, I have never subscribed to the ludicrous point of view that my religion should be thrust upon everyone else. The same should go for the belief in God or of any organized religion whatsoever. It’s an important part of my life, but it should have no place in the seat of government. It just shouldn’t.

I have attended a broad array of parochial schools in my life. St. Regis (Catholic), St. Stephen’s (Episcopalian) and Emery/Weiner (Jewish) come to mind rather immediately. All of those schools combined some element of religious classes with either mass, chapel or Jewish prayer sessions. Growing up, my Mother would often wish to pray before eating, a custom which is still mandatory among functions with my extended family. I never have had, nor do I now, any problem with any of these influences in my life. If I ever have children, I will even likely seek these religious influences out as invaluable facets of the child’s upbringing. But none of them should be in the public square. For, just as easily as my family may have had our specific religious persuasion, other family could have their own. Still others could choose to observe no religious instruction or influence. The beauty of the United States is that we are free to pursue our religious goals ourselves, independent from an encroaching, burdensome government.

As Justice Robert H. Jackson, a devout Anglican, wrote in a 1950s dissent on religious instruction during the school day: “My evangelistic brethren confuse an objection to compulsion with an objection to religion. It is possible to hold a faith with enough confidence to believe that what should be rendered to God does not need to be decided by Caesar.” And as Justice William Brennan said in his famous dissent to Marsh v. Chambers, the aforementioned case from 30 years ago that upheld legislative prayer, “If the Court had struck down legislative prayer today, it would likely have stimulated a furious reaction. But it would also, I am convinced, have invigorated both the ‘spirit of religion’ and the ‘spirit of freedom.'” Here’s for that spirit of freedom!

2015 Mayoral election

Since the beginning of the year, I have been intermittently trying to sit down with the prospective candidates for Mayor in 2015. Mayor Annise Parker, of course, is term-limited at that time, meaning that the election will be an open race. At this time, there is only one candidate openly running for Mayor, complete with signs and social media presence, and that is City Councilmember Oliver Pennington (R-District G). However, there are typically about nine other names that keep coming up as likely Mayoral candidates. These individuals range from being completely ready to go, to simply intently looking into the situation. Additionally, there are about two or three other people I have heard mentioned in passing as possible candidates, but never by anyone willing to go on the record. I will only be discussing the former category.

The eight other candidates, in addition to Pennington, are former Congressman Chris Bell (D-TX), City Councilmember Jack Christie (R-At Large 5), Eric Dick (R), City Councilmember Stephen Costello (R-AL1), METRO Chairman Gilbert Garcia (D), City Councilmember Ed Gonzalez (D-District H), former City Attorney Ben Hall (D), City Councilmember Michael Kubosh (R-At Large 3) and State Representative Sylvester Turner (D-Harris County). Among those I have heard passing on the race are Sheriff Adrian Garcia (D), City Controller Ronald Green (D), Laura Murillo and County Treasurer Orlando Sanchez (R).

CLICK HERE TO READ THE FULL FEATURED ARTICLE!

NDO petition fight heads to Texas Supreme Court

The Houston Chronicle reports that opponents of the local non-discrimination ordinance passed by the Houston City Council have taken their case to the Texas Supreme Court. Specifically, they are seeking an emergency order to force the issue onto this November’s ballot, following a contentious referendum petition effort.

As I recently explained, a controversy has erupted over the NDO –which codifies existing Federal and State anti-discrimination statutes (protecting against race, sex and religion, for example) onto local law, as well as extends new protections for LGBT individuals– following an effort to override the City Council, which approved the ordinance 11-6 last May. Under city law, such an ordinance could be placed upon the ballot for a referendum if enough signatures are gathered within 30 days. Opponents claimed they acquired more than enough signatures, but most of them were disqualified, either for not being properly registered to vote or not living within the city limits of Houston. City Secretary Anna Russell originally determined the signatures to pass the threshold, just barely, but a subsequent independent investigation by City Attorney David Feldman reversed this ruling. Feldman specifically challenged the validity of any signatures on a petition page circulated by an improperly registered circulator.

This is the crux of a legal argument made against the initial decision by Feldman and Mayor Annise Parker to not humor a referendum on this topic. Originally, the opponents filed in State District Court, and received a temporary restraining order by ancillary Judge Jeff Shadwick (R-55th). However, this order was lifted when the case went to the court of Judge Robert Schaffer (D-152nd), and mandamus was denied by the Court of Appeals. As I had understood the mutually agreed upon result to be, a longer hearing would be held on the matter in January 2015, and the issue would not be on the ballot this year. City officials have even stated that the full deadline to place things on a November ballot is August 18th, which is now in the past.

Evidently, plaintiff Jared Woodfill did not get the memorandum. He is seeking, as expedited as possible, mandamus from the Texas Supreme Court, ordering the City to certify Russell’s –and not Feldman’s or Parker’s– petition decision, thus placing this matter on a ballot. Woodfill, a former Chairman of the Harris County Republican Party, evidently is not sold by the whole “deadline to place on the ballot” idea. Go figure.

Those sagacious followers of this publication I always reference will indubitably know I am skeptical of the life of the NDO if it is ever put up on a referendum. Young people and other socially liberal cohorts just don’t get off their butts on go to a voting booth. They’re just lazy, come election day; there’s no way around it. Opponents of this ordinance, though, and other broadly Tea Party aligned groups, would figuratively walk over hot coals in order to vote.

I had thought, however, that the best chances the NDO would have would be if the referendum were held this November, as opposed to next November or next May. However, its chances would be based on an aggressive and effective campaign to save the NDO. Given that it’s nearly Labor Day and such a campaign is not existent, those bets would surely be off.

All in all, my main point is that this is a mess, and while the Texas Supreme Court may be unpredictable, there is nothing to say the partisan nature of the court should lead it to intervene. The two Courts of Appeals in the Houston area are, sans one Democrat, completely filled with Republicans, and they pointedly denied mandamus. Thus, there is no reason necessarily to think that anything rash will occur. But I’ve been wrong before.

Food Truck fight!

On Wednesday, the Houston City Council’s Quality of Life Committee began deliberating reforms of food truck laws. The Houston Chronicle’s Editorial Board was one of the first entities to truly cover the process, while Miya Shay at KTRK provided a much more extensive and evenhanded account of the issue. As best as I have understood, proposed reforms center around whether or not to allow propane-based food trucks in Downtown and the Texas Medical Center, as well as relaxing restrictions on how close they may congregate and prop up tables and chairs. I have placed calls to officials on both sides of this issue, in an attempt to understand this issue further.

Furthermore, the Houston Chronicle reported that, following Wednesday’s contentious committee hearing, Mayor Annise Parker announced that she would be unilaterally changing the pertinent regulations regarding food trucks downtown, though she would still try to push through Council-approved fixes on the other topics.

As best as I can figure out, this topic will be on the agenda at the next City Council meeting. Coming on the wheels of the super contentious Vehicles-for-Hire fight earlier in this same month (which itself followed the non-discrimination ordinance by only one week), Mayor Annise Parker has continued attempting to pass a large chunk of radical policy reforms. Love her or hate her, everyone should be impressed by just how much she has been able to accomplish, and will undoubtedly continue to accomplish (in the Strong-Mayor system used in Houston, the Mayor almost always gets her way). However, the key difference that I have been able to find is that the Mayor sought more of a consensus on the topics. The once-controversial Wage Theft ordinance passed unanimously, and the Payday Lending reform ordinance passed with only two dissensions. On the other hand, the NDO and the Vehicles-for-Hire fights were bitterly fought over and left many with bad feelings.

I have historically been broadly supportive of food trucks, as most astute followers of this publication might remember. Opponents of the proposed reforms have typically been a little slow in getting their valid objections out there, and the mainstream press has harped on the silliest statements ever made by Council opposition,. The Chronicle editorial not once, but twice, mentioned the outlandish tirades that former Councilmember Andrew Burks went on against food trucks, suggesting (among other things) that the propane tanks downtown could be used for terrorist activity. I stand by my assertions that strange comments are unbecoming of a public servant, but they shouldn’t be used to justify a position one way or another on this issue.

Something to remember on this issue is that food trucks are not a monolith. Food trucks should not be all assumed to be the cute, glitzy vehicles zooming around Montrose that so many simply assume them to be. They can also be unsafe, dirty deathtraps, typically situated in poorer neighborhoods. They need very stringent safety inspections, perhaps even more stringent than brick-and-mortar restaurants. But, as far as I can tell, the proposed changes do not deal with safety violations.

As for the propane tanks in densely populated areas, I am still skeptical of the regulation being sound. The facts are still out on the idea that trucks in densely populated areas are dangerous. There was, for example, a terrible tragedy out of Philadelphia last month involving an exploding food truck that killed two people. But restaurants deal with plenty of dangers too, and they have been prone to burning down every once in a while. However, as the Chronicle article repeatedly mentions, the trucks are allowed Uptown and in Greenway Plaza, other high density areas. Like any other issue, I think there should be some consistency. Ideally, that would be strengthening safety standards for the propane tanks, including regular inspection, then letting the trucks into the neighborhoods.

As for some of the other proposals, I still have not completely made up my mind. I am, however, an opponent of allowing individual tables and chairs for the specific food trucks. I do like and support the so-called “Food Truck parks,” in which community tables and chairs are shared among a plethora of trucks. But if individual furniture is used, the truck transforms into a pop-up restaurant.

Just like the Uber/Lyft debate, I am a big believer in everyone providing the same service abiding by the same regulations (Editorial note: Horwitz formerly contracted with the Clifford Group, a public relations firm that counted Yellow Cab among its clients. I have no dog in this fight, though). Restaurants must follow some pretty onerous restrictions, namely for public safety and health reasons. I can understand the idea that a restaurant and a food truck could plausibly provide different services, but not if the latter allowed “dine-in” service. You can’t have it both ways.

Personally,  I am sick and tired of people comparing this issue to the Vehicle-for-Hire spat. There are some big differences, chief among them is that food trucks are not what I would call a “disruptor” into the restaurant industry in the same way. Food trucks, be it the Eatsie Boys or Bernie’s Burger Bus, have taken the next step and become restaurants on many occasions. I don’t think Uber or Lyft want to one day shift to the same business model as Yellow Cab. Furthermore, food trucks have not been operating downtown or doing other things that so openly and cavalierly violate the City of Houston’s ordinances. Call me old fashioned, but Uber’s incessant and gleeful lawbreaking is what sent me other the edge originally. The integrity of laws is important.

That is why I am bitterly opposed to the Mayor’s irresponsible decision to go around City Council on this issue. The Mayor, for all its power, is not a tyrant.

Parker, Councilmembers campaign against HB2

KROI (News 92 FM) reports that Mayor Annise Parker and seven members of the Houston City Council have signed a letter to the State Legislature lambasting HB2, the omnibus anti-abortion bill that State Senator Wendy Davis (D-Tarrant County) famously filibustered last year. Specifically, they made a somewhat quixotic request for the Legislature to repeal the law, which is slated to close the vast majority of the abortion-providing clinics throughout the State. As I have explained countless times in the past, the law accomplishes four things. It requires certain inducing drugs to be taken the day before the procedure, it requires the doctors administering these procedures to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital and it bans abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy. However, the most onerous restriction is requiring all clinics to adhere to the standards of ambulatory surgical centers. This regulation will slash the number of clinics in the State from dozens to six or seven, all located within Austin, Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston or San Antonio.

“When the Texas legislature passed HB2, we knew Houston residents could be harmed by it,” says the letter. “We also knew that Houston would become one of the very few places left to get an abortion (and in some cases, any reproductive health care) in Texas, and that women’s health and lives would be put at risk because of that.”

In addition to Parker, seven members of the City Council supported the letter and signed their names to it. City Councilmembers Jerry Davis (D-District B), Ellen Cohen (D-District C), Ed Gonzalez (D-District H), Robert Gallegos (D-District I), Mike Laster (D-District J), Stephen Costello (R-At Large 1) and David Robinson (D-At Large 2) affixed their signatures.

The letter was likely compelled after Wendy Davis, now the Democratic nominee for Governor, visited City Hall on Monday, in order to give a speech on rape kit backlogs and how she has handled this issue in the past. Contrary to what some national publications, namely Salon Magazine, have said on this matter, the City of Houston or the Houston City Council did not officially take any action against HB2. Rather, the Mayor and a minority of Councilmembers individually expressed their personal opinions.

As I have said extensively in the past, Parker has taken a much stronger interest in seemingly non-local issues since the start of her second term, much less her third. By taking actions such as these, to those as innocuous as speaking at the State Democratic Convention, Parker insists that she is a force to be reckoned with in the future. It is an open secret around Bagby Street that the Mayor has statewide ambitions, and giving the left some red meat is a necessity along the way.

The Councilmembers, meanwhile, were a bit more surprising. Since abortion is not an issue that ever comes up on the agenda of a City Council meeting, I pass no judgment on whether a Councilmember supports such a letter or not. But the support of Councilmember Costello in particular was perhaps the most surprising.

Costello is a registered Republican, though he has a left-of-center streak on the City Council that has largely governed his representation. Last year, Texpatriate even rated him the best member of the City Council overall. But progressive positions on food deserts and budgets are a very far cry from a left-of-center perspective on the most polarized political issue. It is yet another open secret that Costello wants to run for Mayor, along with (among Councilmembers) Oliver Pennington and Jack Christie. However, Pennington and Christie, also Republicans, pointedly did not sign this letter.

The scuttlebutt around town is that Costello will be moving a few steps to the right for his Mayoral campaign, in order to distinguish him from partisan Democratic candidates and ostensibly appeal to the middle. But between his signature on this letter and his blockbuster vote for the non-discrimination ordinance, it looks less and less likely that that is the case. Good! It is welcome news to see Costello repudiating his party on both economic and social issues. I wish more Republicans would do the same.

Tony Morris, 1950-2014

This afternoon, Tony Morris passed away just days after his 64th birthday, following a long battle with cancer.

Anyone who does not know who Tony Morris was obviously not paying enough attention to Houston city politics. He has been a fixture at City Hall for more than 30 years, since the Mayoralty of Kathy Whitmire and throughout the four administrations that followed. An independent freelancing photojournalist, he worked with Houston Style Magazine and many other respected publications throughout his tenure, as well as provided photography for the City in certain situations. He was perhaps most renowned among the general public for his larger-than-life presence in the press section of the City Council chambers, as well as his often flamboyant sartorial selections. However, fewer people had the privilege of actually getting to know Mr Morris, his unmatched kindness & patience or his fantastic political acumen. In fact, I had the pleasure of getting to know him from a number of different perspectives. First as a City employee, but also as a member of the press corps; not to mention interactions with him on the campaign trail with my father last year.

But my very first interaction with Mr Morris occurred before any of that, when I was just a 15 year old with an audacious plan to address the City Council during public session. I had never been to a City Council meeting before, and was quite unfamiliar with the entire procedure. Kindly and patiently, Mr Morris walked me through everything that would happen, and the typical protocol of what I should do when I approached the lectern at my turn to speak.

That speech lead to me working at City Hall for the remainder of High School, through the Mayor’s Youth Council program. Once again, Mr Morris was a regular attendant to our events, and even volunteered his photography skills to us when no one else from the City would document the important tasks we accomplished. He was, with perhaps one exception, the only member of the City Hall press corps to ever see what the young people were up to. I have a picture of Mayor Annise Parker and me, standing behind the Mayor’s seat at the council horseshoe that Mr Morris took, it’s still framed and hanging on my wall. Heck, I think he took my Senior Yearbook Photo too!

Mr Morris understood the value of young people in politics in a way that, admittedly, many members of the City Council at that time simply did not. He approached every person with whom he conversed the same. Young or old, black or white, powerful or not, he gave you the utmost respect and attention, yet again in a way that many elected officials could learn therefrom.

But it was only last Autumn, when my father was running his campaign for the City Council At-large #5, that I truly discovered the local treasure that was Mr Morris’ nearly unmatched acuity in local politics. He engaged us over why my dad was running, and why not support the incumbent. We must have talked to close to an hour, and I must concede that he bested me on a few points of discussion. While his sheer intellect was indubitably very impressive, Mr Morris possessed an unmatched wisdom in City politics perhaps only matched by the City Secretary herself. He was able to see the long story in a way most others can’t –and never will.

City Council meetings, simply put, will just never me the same without Mr Morris. His role transcended that of the press, of spectator or even of longtime observer. He carved out a new place on Bagby Street, just for him, a unique legacy for an inimitable man.

A summer of HERO

Note: For whatever reason, I felt like writing what I saw fit as a timeline. I promise there is some original commentary in here, so if you are not inclined to read my overview, just skip about five paragraphs down.

This is the blog post I have been waiting all summer to write. Once again, I apologize for not attentively following this issue in print since May. As I explained back then, I have been employed this summer in public relations projects involving ongoing issues at City Hall (the word “lobbying” has been brought up by detractors of mine on a number of occasions, though it remains to be said that I am not a registered lobbyist nor have I done anything that would necessitate such a designation). Thus, I voluntarily decided to withdraw myself from commentating on other ongoing issues. However, considering the issue I was working on has had a final council vote (check my Facebook page for my personal thoughts on that matter–largely positive!!), and my employment has shifted to PR/marketing aimed toward the general public, my conflicts have been removed.

The obvious updates since I stopped writing on this issue in May is that the non-discrimination ordinance passed (duh!). While the initial draft of the bill only required those private employers with more than 50 employees to adhere to the law, an amendment by Councilmember Robert Gallegos (D-District I) was offered that lowered the threshold to 15 employees. In review, the law prohibits discrimination against a person in private or public employment, as well as public accommodations, on the basis of the plethora of demographic groups protected on Federal law (race, sex, religion, etc),  in addition to sexual orientation and gender identity. City Hall can’t fire you for being black, Doe & Doe (Attorneys at Law) can’t fire you for being transgendered and Acme Anvils can’t put a sign on their front door that says “Gays not welcome.” In addition to the Gallegos amendment, Councilmember Jerry Davis (D-District B), under blessing of the Mayor, nixed a specific provision detailing the rights of transgendered persons to use the bathroom of their gender identity, not necessarily their biological sex. It is worth noting, however, that under the broad language of the ordinance, that same bathroom language is in effect still valid.

When all was said and done, the ordinance passed 11-6. Councilmembers Davis, Ellen Cohen (D-District C), Richard Nguyen (R-District F), Ed Gonzalez (D-District H), Gallegos, Mike Laster (D-District J), Larry Green (D-District K), Stephen Costello (R-At Large 1), David Robinson (D-At Large 2) and C.O. Bradford (D-At Large 4) voted in favor. Councilmembers Brenda Stardig (R-District A), Dwight Boykins (D-District D), Dave Martin (R-District E), Oliver Pennington (R-District G), Michael Kubosh (R-At Large 3) and Jack Christie (R-At Large 5) voted against.

Opponents of the ordinance congregated around claims of “religious liberty,” claiming that if being gay went against one’s religious views, being forced to accommodate someone would be immoral to them. They came back with a vengeance, circulating petitions to force a referendum on this bill. A few weeks ago, they submitted 50,000 signatures, far more than the required 17,000 to require a referendum. However, proponents of the ordinance independently verified all the signatories, and found the petitions riddled with violations of the rules. While there were surely many signatories who were not City of Houston voters, thousands more were discounted because the distributors of the petition for that page was not properly credentialed, which invalidated all the signatures on said page. Under such strict scrutiny, Mayor Annise Parker and City Attorney Dave Feldman held that the non-discrimination ordinance (now colloquially known as HERO, or the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, by the way) would not be challenged on the ballot. Opponents expeditiously marched to the courthouse.

After a little bit of jockeying back and forward between State and Federal court, the dispute landed in (State Civil) 55th District Judge Jeff Shadwick’s court. A Republican, he placed a temporary restraining order on the enforcement of the law (redundant, for what it’s worth, because Parker had already enjoined enforcement) and scheduled a hearing on the validity of the petitions for August 15th. August 18th is the deadline, as I understand it, for something to be placed on the ballot this November.

My first and most obvious stipulation is that I am absolutely overjoyed that this measure passed, and I think that Houston is all the better for it. In an ideal world, there shouldn’t even be the 15 employee threshold (though certainly an exception for religious institutions and non-profits). That being said, there are some legitimate arguments against this proposal. Persuasive to me? Absolutely not. But legitimate nonetheless.

I think the best argument there was centered on the ordinance’s sheer unpopularity in the general public. In my opinion, this runs hand and hand with some major fumbles on the part of the Mayor. First and foremost, she made the ordinance nearly 100% about the LGBT community, when the ordinance was about everyone. Indubitably, rights for LGBT people are unbelievably important and even as a standalone issue should be fought for relentlessly, but so should Civil Rights for African-Americans and Hispanics, as well as protections by age, veterans status, disability and religion, to name a few. Perhaps the worst moment was when she addressed a commentator at public session by noting that the ordinance was “personal” for her. Simply put, it’s not about her. It’s about everyone. And by claiming it is about her and the LGBT community, she provides unneeded fodder for detractors to overturn the ordinance in a referendum.

Additionally, criticism was misplaced, and that is a huge understatement. The amount of nastiness directed toward Councilmember Brenda Stardig in particular was simply appalling. I will be the first to admit that I disagreed with Stardig’s vote, but that does not justify personal rhetorical attacks. Her office’s Facebook page was overrun with mean-spirited comments and she was singled out by a couple of commentators. Stardig never said she would support a non-discrimination ordinance and her constituency was overwhelmingly opposed. I fail to see the controversy here.

Like Stardig, all but two of the Councilmembers who voted no made no such earlier promise, and by-and-large came from constituencies opposing this ordinance. The two big exceptions were Dwight Boykins and Jack Christie.

With Christie, I can’t say I’m surprised. He had been utterly non-committal throughout last year’s campaign about supporting such an ordinance, even in response to incessant queries by his two opponents (Disclosure: one of them, James Horwitz, is my father), who were both big supporters of a non-discrimination ordinance and same-sex marriage. For some reason, last election cycle the GLBT Caucus was figuratively in love with Christie, not only endorsing him but campaigning for him vigorously against two liberal Democratic opponents. I don’t want to say, “I told you so,” but…you know the rest. It’s definitely not Christie’s fault, though. He would only say that he supported a non-discrimination ordinance in very broad terms, and one could tell the bulk of his issues revolved around lowering the employee threshold to 15. It’s the fault of those who voted for him, expecting him to do something different. Don’t blame a politician for voting one’s district, but definitely don’t do so for voting one’s conscious–when the evidence previously pointed to the conclusion. It comes off as naive.

Now, Dwight Boykins is a whole other story. Throughout the campaign, he triumphantly touted his support for LGBT rights and has n0t at all been hesitant about any of it. Simply put, he lied. I understand that he thought his district was against it, but if you think like that, don’t talk to interest groups day in and day out about how you think LGBT rights should be a civil rights issue. Both are good enough selections, but you can only choose one. Boykins attempted to choose both, and as such, now appears for what he is: a giant hypocrite.

But perhaps one of the biggest disappointments in all this has been the Mayor. Simply put, she was a “sore-winner.” Instead of being gracious in victory and moving on to the referendum (which will be the real battle), she kept harping on bumping the margins up on the final vote. Even after the final vote, she showed favorites to the ordinances proponents and snubbed the opponents in discourteous and unprofessional ways.

In a City Council meeting in late June, Kubosh even made a comment at Council about how he should agree with the Mayor more often, so that “he too might get his bottle of wine.” At this point, coos and shrieks from council staff could be heard throughout the room. Obviously, I was curious as to what he was referencing, so I asked around. It turns out that the Mayor bought cheap bottles of red wine for all the Councilmembers who voted with her on the NDO, conspicuously snubbing those who did not. That type of antic –giving little treats in a very obvious fashion to your allies after they vote with you– is reminiscent of the petty, sophomoric tactics used by second-rate lobbyists, not the decorum expected of the Mayor.

But all this is just semantics, which in the grand scheme of things is rather unimportant. Probably the most egregious error in this whole process was the Mayor not focusing on the almost mandatory referendum. At the end of the day, the fact is that the City Secretary has noted that the number of valid signatures are above the minimum. Furthermore, when it comes to the jurisprudence of the matter, strict requirements for those circulating petitions to be registered voters are likely too onerous to stand up in court. A referendum is coming, and the best scenario is for it to be in November 2014. If it happens in May 2015, it will almost certainly fail. It is happens in November 2015, it will also likely fail, and could negatively affect City elections vis-a-vis progressive candidates.

But enough about just negative sentiment. At the end of the day, the courageous men and women at the GLBT Caucus and other interests did yeoman’s work in advancing this positive piece of legislation. I’m a bit of pessimist and a cynic, so I will also find things to gripe about, but that does not change the reality that a very good ordinance passed, an even stronger one than San Antonio’s! The process may have been muddied, and the long road is not even over yet, but if this holds up in a referendum, it will be Mayor Annise Parker’s lasting legacy as Mayor. It will be a darn good one.

As always, my fellow bloggers have provided awesome commentary on this issue. Brains & Eggs, Dos Centavos, Off the Kuff and Texas Leftist all give great perspectives on the left, while Big Jolly Politics and Rhymes with Right do the same on the right.

Texpatriate opposes Vehicle-for-Hire overhaul

Editorial note: Noah M. Horwitz is currently employed by The Clifford Group, a public relations firm in Houston that counts the Greater Houston Transportation Company, Yellow Cab’s parent, among its clients. Horwitz took no place in the deliberation or compilation of this editorial. A majority of the board concurs to the opinion, but the Editorial itself was penned solely by Andrew Scott Romo.

The debate over regulations for taxis in Houston is complicated. The debate over the proposed ordinance before the City Council today is not. The ordinance does not pass the smell test; it allows for equivalent services in the same marketplace to be treated differently. We have long struggled to understand why the City of Houston has drafted an ordinance that would allow such a gross inequity in the law to stand. We’ve tried asking the Mayor, we’ve tried asking the City and we’ve tried asking all the pertinent stakeholders in the community. None of them could give us a clear answer. We are beginning to suspect that one simply does not exist.

This board has long been struggling to pen an editorial on this topic. We disagree sharply among of our ranks with the question of what direction Houston’s taxi industry should move in. Some of us think that the ordinances currently regulating Yellow Cab and other companies should go on relatively unchanged, while some prefer minor changes. Some of us even think that the regulations should be completely eviscerated and replaced with a fully free-market taxi industry, where the consumer and the consumer alone decides who she wishes to ride with and for how much. What we all agree on, however, is that the proposed ordinance is a bad piece of legislation that needs to be voted down.

Uber and Lyft, two new entrants into the taxi industry, wish to not follow the regulations Yellow Cab and others currently follow. These include expensive measures, such as insurance and the guarantee of rides to all, to the more symbolically ethical, such as metered fares that cannot ever be changed or tampered. For one largely supportive of these laws, for example, this proposal lacks any serious positive attributes, as it allows for Uber and Lyft to follow much different, much more lenient, laws regarding insurance, fares, background checks, drug tests, inspections and many more, all while the legal cab companies are forced to follow the letter of the law in every single ordinance previously governing them.

This should be a red flag even for those who are otherwise supportive of calls to reform the taxi industry. Take, for example, the proponent of moderate reform, who may wish to facilitate the creation of discount pricing and promotions for vehicles-for-hire in Houston. While Uber and Lyft, under the dubious category of Transportation Network Companies, may do this, Yellow Cab and others simply may not within the boundaries of the law.

Even advocates of radical deregulation can see the problems with such a proposal. If Uber and Lyft can charge whatever they want, slash some of the most expensive charges for the operation of taxis and only take profitable trips, it would be wildly unfair to compel Yellow Cab to play in the old system. Much has been said about letting the free market take care of consumers in this industry. That simply was not the intention with this bill, as it does not trust the free market to operate. Alternatively, in an example of a most non-free and unfair market, Yellow Cab is restrained by burdensome regulations with Uber and Lyft are not. That is patently absurd and without any justification.

The Houston City Council has already delayed this action once in the naive hope that same grand bargain could be struck or a better bill could be drafted. Instead, the substitute proposal was even worse, replete with even more inequalities between the two same systems. For these reasons, this board recommends that the Council simply kill this proposal. No amendments, no posturing and no compromise-talk. Vote it down.

The Texpatriate Editorial Board is comprised of Noah M. Horwitz and 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.

NDO Public Session held

I climbed the steps of City Hall today for the first time in a couple months. I did not have a surplus of time, so I only got to peak my head into the very beginning of the public session. For those unfamiliar, the City Council is required by law to listen to members of the public on agenda and non-agenda items weekly. Anyone in the city may call the City Secretary and receive at least 60 seconds of speaking time before the Council. This week, the discussion centered unanimously around the non-discrimination ordinance being considered by the Council, which I have written about extensively in the past. In short, the ordinance codifies existing Federal regulations against discrimination into local law, as well as expand them to protect both sexual orientation and gender identity.

There were over 80 speakers on this ordinance, with over 4/5ths of them being supportive thereof. Elected officials, such as State Senator John Whitmire, Sheriff Adrian Garcia, State Representative Garnet Coleman and State Representative Carol Alvarado lent their support in person. Other elected officials, such as State Senator Rodney Ellis, State Senator Sylvia Garcia and State Representative Sylvester Turner, have also been quite supportive, but did not make an appearance in person. Another who did, however, was former Congressman Chris Bell, a likely Mayoral candidate in 2015 (along with Turner and, possibly, Garcia). A number of other stalwarts in the community spoke up today, though perhaps my favorite speaker was Sissy Farenthold. Simply put, she was Ann Richards before there was Ann Richards, serving at one time as the only female member of the Legislature and coming heartbreakingly close to winning the Democratic nomination for Governor in the 1970s.

Click here to read about more supporters, opponents, and the Councilmembers’ reactions!

I’m back!!

After seven tests and two essays, my summer has officially begun. I’m going to be undertaking two main projects this summer, one starting on Monday and one in June, after which the two will run concurrently until late August. I’ll have more on this on Sunday and next month, respectively. Obviously, studying for tests is hard, but these past eight days have been some of the most stressful in recent memory because I have been unable to contribute to Texpatriate. Fear not, regular posting will continue perpetually at this time. At this point, my intent is to publish early the morning before I head out for the day. Anyways, I’d like to briefly touch upon a few of the major actions that have occurred since I signed off.

First and foremost, a public hearing was held over the proposed non-discrimination ordinance at City Hall. The results were predictable, to say the least, with the usual suspects showing up and pontificating the same-old trite arguments about religious liberty and such. The number of Councilmembers on the fence appeared to have broadened, and includes such officeholders I have named before such as Michael Kubosh, C.O. Bradford and Jack Christie. Additionally, it includes a few new names, especially Richard Nguyen. I’ll probably have a little more about this soon, but the general point is obviously to prohibit discrimination against LGBT people from both governmental agencies and private employers. Much of the argument that this provision is somehow anti-business has been put to bed after the Greater Houston Partnership backed the ordinance. Off the Kuff and Texas Leftist have more.

Please click here to see more!