September 08, 2003
Bill White and one little letter

Now that we've all had our fun at the expense of Out Of Town Orlando Sanchez, Kevin is turning his attention to Bill White, who most of you know is my preferred candidate for Mayor of Houston. Says Kevin:

He's a pasty-American with ties to big energy.

He is not well known by most Houstonians.

He has ties to the Greater Houston Partnership.

He has virtually no experience in municipal government.

He has raised more money than any of the other candidates. Lots more money.

It appears he is determined to try and win the election by massive media buys -- one might even suggest he is attempting to "buy the election."

Sounds like a walking target for our left-of-center friends who decry the influence of money in politics.

Ah wait... what's that? Oh yes, that's right. He's okay, because he doesn't have that scarlett letter (R) beside his name. Well, in that case, he really must be smart. And a successful businessman in a volatile industry. And a guy with experience in municipal government after all (he chaired a task force once). And not as scary as that other left-of-center candidate. More moderate than that other "moderate." Yeah, that's it!

Let's deal with the peripheral issues first:

- I can't speak for anyone else, but I for one am not a reflexive basher of the energy industry. I know what city I live in, and I know what the biggest employer in this city is. Show me evidence that Bill White thinks that global warming is "just a theory", and then you'll have me rethinking my position.

- I'm willing to bet that most first-time candidates for city office have name recognition issues. That may be one reason why White, and for that matter Michael Berry, started their campaigns so long ago, as they couldn't afford to coast on the assumption that people already knew who they are.

- I have no opinion on the Greater Houston Partnership.

- Bill White's three main opponents in this race are an undistinguished former City Council member who's been living off campaign funds for two years, an even more undistinguished one-term City Council member, and a generally respected state legislator. There are times when I consider a lack of experience to be a deciding factor in an election, and times when it's less of a factor. This is one of the latter times. As someone recently commented, the most qualified candidate for Mayor in 2003 would be Lee Brown. I think we can all agree that there are other qualities that are worthy of consideration this year.

I think I can sum up Kevin's gripe here as "this guy has a lot in common with Republican candidates, but you wouldn't give him the time of day if he ran as one." To which I'll say: Yes and no.

First off, I do vote for the occasional Republican. I've voted for Justice John Anderson, who earned it after giving a correct ruling in what became Lawrence v. Texas and refusing to back down in the face of mudslinging from then-GOP Chair Gary Polland, and for County Treasurer Jack Cato, whom I know through playing bridge. Should Gabriel Vasquez, my party-switching Council representative run for another office some day, I'll give him due consideration for his excellent service. I don't punch the GOP chad often, but neither do I vote a straight ticket.

Second, there would be a big difference between Bill White running a generally non-partisan campaign yet happening to be a Republican, which would make him functionally equivalent to former Mayor Bob Lanier, for whom I voted in the past, and running a partisan campaign as a Republican, which would make him Rob Mosbacher circa 1997 and an easy no-vote decision to make. Frankly, the note in yeserday's Chron that White is being a stealth partisan with different messages to different audiences, is not something that I like. I can understand it, but I'd rather he didn't do it.

In short, White has some of the generally-associated-with-Republicans credentials that I approve of, and none of the ones that I don't approve of. What's the problem?

Now let's talk about money, which was probably the reason for Kevin's post in the first place. I had a long response in mind for that at first, but after what I've already written, I'll rein it in. My concern about money in political races is not its presence - I may as well be complaining about the presence of politicians. I specifically have a problem with secret donors, especially when they're funding phony "issue ads", I have a problem with corporate donors who help fund state races where they don't have a legislative stake, and I have a problem with quid pro quo for corporate donors. With the exception of soft money anti-White radio ads, I don't see how that has any effect on my choice of candidate this year.

(Hope this wasn't too boring for non-Houston folks.)

Posted by Charles Kuffner on September 08, 2003 to Election 2003 | TrackBack

A goat could do a better job than the current leadership.

Posted by: trish on September 8, 2003 11:25 AM

I think it's worth pointing out that you, Rob Humenik and I all have ties to Big Energy.

Posted by: Ted Barlow on September 8, 2003 12:48 PM

Well, I guess we won't be voting for you guys then. ;)

And, what the heck is the Greater Houston Partnership?

Posted by: elizabeth on September 8, 2003 1:23 PM

I think it's worth pointing out that you, Rob Humenik and I all have ties to Big Energy.

So does Ginger, so does Tiffany, so do quite a few other people I know. There are bad things about Big Energy, no doubt about it, but I like to think most of us have a level head about it. (Some folks, on both sides, do not.)

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on September 8, 2003 1:26 PM

Charles, I presume you're aware that Bill White was Deputy Secretary of Energy in the Clinton Administration? That's not exactly a "generally-associated-with-Republicans credential." Likewise, his former law partners in Susman Godfrey LLP are among the most prominent FOBs in Houston, besides being damned fine trial lawyers (and I use that term to mean "lawyers who try cases," not as a synonym for "plaintiffs' personal injury trial lawyers"). And he's the former head of the Texas Democratic Party.

In most cases, given my own conservative politics, the Clinton Administration credential alone might be enough to persuade me against voting for someone, even in a nominally nonpartisan election like that for Houston's mayor.

In this particular case, though, I may well end up voting for Bill White anyway, because I know him personally, and because of that can vouch that he is simply "wicked smart" -- but not wicked -- and that he works really hard. He was a class ahead of me at Texas Law School, and I had the privilege of working with and for him when he was Editor in Chief of the Texas Law Review (on which I was a scut-working peon at the time). He's not particularly charismatic (a la Clinton), but neither is he a dull technocrat (a la Jimmy Carter), and I believe him to be honest and ethical.

Although I might well oppose him for, say, US Senator or Lt. Governor, I expect that he would make a very effective mayor, and I'm not quite sure what difference there is between the "Republican paradigm" and the "Democratic paradigm" for city government.

Posted by:
Beldar on September 8, 2003 3:18 PM

Beldar, I'm aware of White's history. My point is that, unlike Orlando Sanchez in 2001, who ran TV ads in which he was endorsed by President Bush, George HW and Barbara Bush, and Rudy Giuliani, White is not running a campaign that generally emphasizes his Democratic credentials. Don't get me wrong - the supporters I've met at fundraisers for him are plenty happy that he's a Dem, it's just that if you didn't know any better, you'd have to figure it out on your own.

For what it's worth, as far as I can tell so far, both Berry and Sanchez are running relatively nonpartisan campaigns. That may change when they start airing ads, and of course the Harris County GOP has chipped in with its White-is-a-liberal radio spots, but they are trying to reach out to non-Rs as White is trying to reach out to non-Ds.

Anyway, to be clear, the "generally-associated-with-Republican" attributes I was referring to were mostly his business credentials, which is one of the things he touts about himself in his campaign materials.

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on September 8, 2003 3:57 PM

As far as I can tell from my mailbox, the White campaign is a jobs program for the Post Office. We get more mail from him than from the Prop 12 people.

And it's very interesting to see what shows up addressed to whom, since I voted McCain in 2000. Yes, there are different pieces for different audiences.

Posted by: Michael on September 8, 2003 5:14 PM

Eh, I was just having a bit of fun at the expense of the anti-(R) types in town. I surely didn't expect to instigate this! :)

Personally, I'm about ready to say to hell with the Big Four candidates. I want Joe Roach on the ballot (I'm serious about that, btw)!

Posted by: kevin whited on September 9, 2003 1:12 PM

Well, when you linked to my post there, I figured you were talking to me. No biggie, I had to think about what I wanted to say, and that helped clarify a few things for me.

As for Joe Roach, he lost any support he might have gotten from me when he demonstrated just how thin his skin is. A shame, really.

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on September 9, 2003 2:32 PM

Charles: That linked post was just the one I found the easiest. I meant to try and find something from Greg and Ginger on money in politics, but got lazy. That's what you get for posting so often, my friend. Gentle tweaking from the (R) contingent. :)

Posted by: kevin whited on September 11, 2003 8:21 AM

Charles: That linked post was just the one I found the easiest. I meant to try and find something from Greg and Ginger on money in politics, but got lazy. That's what you get for posting so often, my friend. Gentle tweaking from the (R) contingent. :)

I did manage to leave out that he teaches Sunday school classes, something he's pointed out in the latest literature he's sent to me (3 mailings total -- woo hoo). I do suspect if someone with an (R) had emphasized that, a fair number of (D) types would have a negative reaction. I could be wrong.

One last thing -- saw a guy who looked JUST LIKE Bill White at the Mucky Duck last night for Joe Ely. Made me think he really might be the smartest candidate on the basis of musical taste alone. :) But upon approach, turns out it wasn't he (dude had a thick British accent). Set me thinking, though....

Posted by: kevin whited on September 11, 2003 8:26 AM

That's what you get for posting so often, my friend. Gentle tweaking from the (R) contingent. :)

Guilty as charged! You got me there. :-)

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on September 11, 2003 8:35 AM