Sylvester Turner will run for Mayor

KRIV reports that Sylvester Turner, a longtime State Representative, will run for Mayor of Houston in 2015. Turner has run for Mayor twice before, in 1991 and 2003. While he finished in a distant third place in 2003, he proceeded into a very close runoff election during his first run. In that race, he lost in a squeaker to Bob Lanier after Wayne Dolcefino ran a slimy expose based on utter falsehoods. Turner later sued Dolcefino for libel, but that is neither here nor there. My point is that if you think of Sylvester Turner with preconceived notions of alleged wrongdoing, you are totally incorrect.

In the 22 years since then (30 years total, in the House), Turner has truly become a force to be reckoned with on the State Legislature. He currently serves as the Vice-Chair of the House Appropriations Committee (the ranking Democrat) and is one of the biggest leaders among the minority party in the Capitol. Instrumental in the passage of a massive water-infrastructure constitutional amendment this past session, he earned a spot on Texpatriate’s list of Best LegislatorsTexas Monthly also noted his massive contribution to the session by naming him the Bull of the Brazos.

Click here to read Turner’s announcement!

Hall alleges corruption

The Houston Chronicle reports on the Ben Hall campaign’s recent allegations of corruption at City Hall. Perhaps this is what he was referring to when speaking broadly, in innuendo, of Parker’s “multiple ethics violations.” Hall’s campaign sent me a press release outlining what his plan would be, in regard to solving the evident crisis of corruption. I have to give him some credit for outlining an actual problem –more later on if the problem actually pertains to the Mayor, however– and having some specific, concrete solutions to the problem. As Hall delineates in his press release, his 10-point plan on corruption:

  1. Two-year moratorium on accepting campaign contributions after vendors receive city contracts.

  2. Two-year moratorium on accepting campaign contributions from municipal appointees.

  3. A candidate may not accept any contributions over $250.00 from an officer, director, or employee of a city contractor.

  4. When a contract is awarded or a person appointed, all campaign contributions given by that individual and/or company during the previous municipal election cycle must be disclosed immediately.

  5. Two-year moratorium on any city employees registering as lobbyists or working for a lobbying firm. 

  6. Requiring lobbyists to file reports and creation of a searchable online database showing information (i.e. names of companies they lobby for, amount paid, amount spent, amount spent on contributions, etc.)

  7. No gifts will be accepted by the Mayor within the six months preceding an election.

  8. Create a searchable online database of city contracts awarded by all departments.

  9. Create a searchable online city check register.

  10. Increased accountability through improving search capability for ethics reports.

Some of the points are not as specific as they should be, but it is a start. Point No. 6, which essentially requires lobbyists to file the equivalent of a campaign finance report, seems somewhat arduous and excessive. As does Point No. 7, which is greatly arbitrary. That being said, I really do like a lot of his ideas on moratoriums, specifically Point No. 5, which has been pushed for most prominently at the national level. The phenomenon is typically referred to as the “Revolving Door problem,” and is an issue in any place of government, be that Washington, Austin or Houston.

Hall’s campaign ideas on this subject are chock full of interesting ideas, but that leaves one question conveniently unanswered. How does this pertain to the incumbent? My basic, underlying philosophy on elections featuring an incumbent is that the challengers must convince the electorate that the incumbent has failed. It seems that Hall largely agrees with this premise

A lengthy report was also published by the Hall campaign, noting all of Parker’s major campaign donations featuring city contractors. The report, which is about 13 pages long full of names, features two possible ethics violations. The analysis by Mike Morris at the Chronicle also was somewhat indecisive, bordering on dubious, vis-a-vis these allegations. I tend to agree with him.

Morris then interviewed Dave Feldman, the City Attorney. He noted that many of the contracts that Hall lambasts, those involving $50k or more in expenses, are the City Council’s job to approve, rather than the Executive Branch’s. On the greater issue, Feldman criticized the assertions as “absurd.”

While I certainly do not believe that the Mayor acted in bad faith in regard to campaign finance issues, I was somewhat surprised and perplexed to see how the Parker campaign responded to the issue. Rather than fully deny any wrongdoing on Parker’s part (again, not alleging they are hiding anything), the Mayor’s campaign simply responded by casting an aversion of their own. The Mayor’s spokesperson, Sue Davis, simply deflected the subject to Hall’s past allegations of impropriety, his tax liens and his tax returns. While those are all valid topics of discussion, they were not the issue at hand, but I digress.

Ben Hall would be wise to knock off his ridiculous claims of Parker being some sort of corrupt politician. And Annise Parker would be wise to not stoop to that low level by not responding with mudslinging, simply addressing the issue and moving on. The campaign really needs to be talking about substance, and this is where the points Hall alleges come into play.

I would like to know, without any sensationalism, without any editorializing, what Parker’s campaign thinks of these issues. To be such a proponent of campaign finance reform and strict regulations seems more systemic of the actual Ben Hall, the Democrat, rather than the faux, Republican-friendly one. I am curious to also know what Hall’s Republican supports think of this idea. As a Democrat, I have historically supported ideas such as closing the revolving door. It would be the height of hypocrisy for me to now oppose those beliefs because of which candidate is attached to them. I hope my colleagues may see it that way as well.

 

 

Debating the debating of debates

The Houston Chronicle reports on this issue, and asks a worthwhile question: is there a meaningful difference between a forum and a debate?

To run through a quick summary of the issue, Ben Hall recently challenged Parker to six debates, Parker responded with a counteroffer of just one debate including all candidates and then ultimately got her way. However, the nature of the issue recently changed when the two front runners began arguing about formalities like word choice.

Evidently, the issue at hand was an event held by the Baptist Ministers’ Association of Houston, to be held tomorrow at 6PM. Parker’s campaign, in conversations with Morris’ article in the Chronicle, insinuated that this was in fact a debate, providing their own definition. Sue Davis, Parker’s communications director, provided this statement:

“When you’re standing there and you’re all on stage at the same time and you’re each taking questions and you’re all answering them and then you make a closing statement, if that’s not a debate, I don’t know what is. That’s just silly.”

Hall’s campaign, represented by his press secretary, Julia Smekalina, released a short & sweet counterstatement:

“A debate is a televised, moderated, formal event on neutral turf.”

To be fair, I do not completely agree with either of these definitions. Since nobody uses dictionaries anymore, we’ll consult Google for our definition: “A formal discussion on a particular topic in a public meeting or legislative assembly, in which opposing arguments are put forward.”

Hall’s campaign was pretty much right about everything except the televised part. What Davis described was not a debate, it was a forum, of which there is a difference. Google defines that word as “A meeting or medium where ideas and views on a particular issue can be exchanged.”

A forum, simply put, sounds like what this Baptist Ministers’ event is. In a forum, the candidates may answer questions and exchange opening/closing statements, but they most certainly do not debate. In these types of events, the candidates simply give stump speeches one after another, they do not have the opportunity to critique each others positions (or lack thereof). As far as I can tell, the October 8th event is the only debate we are having this election.

Needless to say, Texpatriate (or at least, myself) will be at this event, however you would name it, to see what is going on. It will be my penultimate weekend in Houston until Christmas, so I will attempt to make the most of it.