Why I am backing Sylvester Turner

Since Texpatriate went dormant, I’ve realized a few things. One of them is that I no longer have to keep my cards close to the vest, so to speak, with respect to municipal elections until October. With that in mind, I want to explain some of my picks to lead Houston sooner rather than later (in this case, much sooner). By far the easiest pick, and one I basically determined a year ago, is State Representative Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, for mayor. Beyond the shadow of a doubt, he is the right person for the job. Briefly, I would like to explain why.

A little over a year ago, I had the privilege of sitting down with the frontrunners for mayor in lengthy interviews regarding city issues. What I noticed is that Turner and former Congressman Chris Bell, D-Houston, his main competitor, have totally different visions as mayor, despite not really diverging from one another too much in their political positions. Bell is obsessed with policy, whereas Turner is obsessed with the process. One might not think that a benefit for Turner, but his track record in the state legislature speaks for itself.

Turner has a wealth of experience that none of his opponents can even approach. With more than 25 years in the legislature, he has repeatedly proven himself to be a master of the rules and procedures that govern the State House. As the Vice-Chairman of the Appropriations Committee, he wields a disproportionate amount of power for a member of the minority party, but he puts it to good use. Last session, he was particularly instrumental in killing a bad water bill and bringing about a much better, bipartisan alternative.

If elected, Turner would bring all that knowledge and experience to the 3rd floor of city hall, where he would no doubt be able to form an inclusive and more effective coalition to lead the city.

Perhaps most important, Turner would be the perfect successor for Mayor Annise Parker, who I think has been an overall positive mayor but has certainly had some hiccups along the way. The other candidates tend to characterize her as either infallible or the cause of everything wrong in the city, both of which are pretty silly overgeneralizing assertions.

Specifically, Turner would not only double down on Parker’s positive steps in the right direction on things such as LGBT rights, he would address the issues Parker did not, such as our crumbling roads or the impasse on the firefighters’ pensions. On the latter front, Turner has already been instrumental in brokering a good first step in that long process.

Accordingly, Turner is already being supported by not only some of Parker’s historical base, including parts of the LGBT community and inner-loop business Democrats, but by historical enemies as well. The Firefighter’s Union, obviously no friend of Parker’s, has already endorsed him, as have both the Police Officer’s Union and HOPE, the municipal employee’s union. Expect a plethora of other organizations to soon follow.

Furthermore, I’m not especially impressed with Turner’s competition. Given the growing polarization of politics and the toxicity of some state Republican principles, I do think it is important to have a Democrat as mayor. I also think that Turner, a native Houstonian, has a better connection to this city than some who, for example, was previously the mayor of another town. Turner is also brilliant; aside from his legislative accomplishments, he’s a gifted attorney who graduated from Harvard Law School.

Now, I wasn’t alive (even by Dan Patrick’s definition) in 1991, so I don’t have a personal recollection of the shenanigans that surrounded that election. Sadly, much of the electorate does. Channel 13 libeled Turner in such a slimy way back then, and it would cause me to lose all my respect for any of the other mayoral candidates if they brought up those discredited lies at some point throughout the campaign.

One of the biggest things I have learned about politics in the last year is that, in the absence of other skills and capabilities, being a policy wonk will not get you very far. That and a dollar will get you a coke. A successful mayor needs to also be an expert at the procedures and processes of government. The big stuff will follow, as I’m sure it will with Turner.

Accordingly, I enthusiastically and wholeheartedly endorse Sylvester Turner for mayor!

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Garcia looks to run for Mayor

The Houston Chronicle reports that Sheriff Adrian Garcia, the highest ranking Democrat in Harris County (and arguably the state), is taking decisive steps toward running for mayor. Garcia, who previously served as a member of the Houston City Council from 2004 to 2008, has been the Sheriff for two-terms. Under state law, the instant he announces his intention to run, Garcia will be compelled to resign. This would have the effect empowering the Harris County Commissioner’s Court, which sways 4-1 Republican, with the ability to appoint his successor.

Garcia has been mentioned as a possible mayoral candidate before, but only recently have his advisers become more frank with reporters about his probable intentions. With sky-high name ID, at least compared to some of the other pretenders to the throne, Garcia would have the ability to immediately become one of the top candidates.

In other mayoral news, former Congressman Chris Bell has officially announced his run (via Facebook). A more formal event will occur somewhere in Houston this weekend. Among others in the definite column are State Representative Sylvester Turner (D-Harris County), former Mayor of Kemah Bill King, City Councilmembers Stephen Costello (R-At Large 1), Oliver Pennington (R-District G), former City Attorney Ben Hall and Marty McVey. There are quite a few others who are still maybes.

Garcia has some baggage that would accompany the run, to say the least. Last fall, the Sheriff’s office received some indescribably bad press around the world when an inmate was kept in subhuman conditions. In the rough and tumble world of municipal politics, I expect this issue to come up more than once.

I like Garcia a lot (I happily voted for him 2012) and think he would do great in some higher offices, namely County Judge. But resigning his position like this for a long-shot mayoral race is not the correct course of action, especially when his replacement as sheriff will likely be significantly more conservative and could easily rescind some of the valuable progress made in the Sheriff’s office recently. In my opinion, to do so is rather selfish.

The addition of Garcia to the list also does not change my prediction of the most-likely runoff participants; it is still Turner and Pennington. Unfortunately, the Hispanic community in Houston, which would likely be Garcia’s main base, just does not vote with any strength whatsoever in municipal elections. Given the plethora of other candidates who will be competing for every inch of the electorate, I just do not see a plausible pathway to victory for Garcia. But that’s why we have elections, I suppose.

Brains & Eggs, Dos Centavos and Off the Kuff have more.

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.

Is Ben Hall running as a joke?

The Houston Chronicle reports that former City Attorney Ben Hall, who recently announced his intent to run for Mayor yet again, has released his second radio ad, nearly a full year ahead of the election. The ad features fictional characters, named “The Harrison’s,” debating Houston politics and lamenting Hall’s previous untruths, complete with a jingle and everything. I’m serious.

The 60-second spot, which you can find at this link, features a fictional African-American couple, initially complaining about the end of this most recent election, debating the merits of Hall’s second candidacy. The husband, later identified as George Harrison, thinks he sounds “so sincere” this time, but his wife, Christine Harrison, made a point of noting Hall’s dishonesty in the most recent election. She brings up his broken promise on holding community meetings. Then, the ad just throws a bunch of stuff at the wall and hopes some of it sticks. Specifically, Mr Harrison makes a point of bringing up “Subpoena-gate,” when Mayor Annise Parker’s administration foolishly tried to subpoena sermons by anti-LGBT clergy as part of the discovery process in the lawsuit against the non-discrimination ordinance.

I don’t even know where to begin with this one. Perhaps Hall thinks that humility could be an asset, but it just doesn’t work like that. Just ask Jerry Springer how well admitting your mistakes work. Generally speaking, if you make up fictional characters in a commercial, your level of support among them should be just about unanimous. Not 50%. Like his myriad of campaign blunders the last time around, Hall appears to just micromanaging his campaign away from any semblance of logic and reason.

Perhaps even more than the last time around, Hall appears willing to spend a considerable sum of money on his delusional dream of getting elected Mayor. I think it’s safe to say that he will never, ever be the Mayor, which begs the question as to why he is trying so hard. I suppose he could be testing the waters rather hard now, so that he could abort his candidacy by the spring if things do not appear to be causing much traction. But that’s just my guess.

The significantly more problematic side effect of Hall’s candidacy could be playing spoiler to the candidacy of State Representative Sylvester Turner (D-Harris County). Hall could arguably split the African-American support with Turner. And while Turner, the arguable frontrunner of the race, has a rather broad coalition, he could rely greatly on that demographic if his intention is to win next November without a runoff.

What do you think of Hall’s new ad?

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.

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?