March 15, 2004
It's a bad time to be a political consultant

Boy, how things can change from a year ago when everyone was living high off the hog during that long, expensive mayoral race but now there are hardly any opportunities for a political consultant to make a few bucks.

"There just aren't as many contested races on the horizon for the next two years," said [George] Strong.

"There still will be work, and we have other ways to make money," he said. "There just isn't enough from political races."


The major culprit? Redistricting and fine-tuned computers that can virtually guarantee which party will win an election, and often can protect a specific incumbent.

As a result, almost all Houston-area races likely to be seriously competitive were fought out in last week's primaries, or will be settled in primary runoffs April 13.

In many cases, one party's nominee will be strongly favored in the fall -- if the candidate faces opposition at all -- because that party dominates the district.

And there were just a handful of competitive primaries. In those, debate on issues took a back seat to discussion about party loyalty or personal backgrounds.

I don't foresee this as being a long-term problem, even if next year's municipal races are likely to be snoozers, with no real challenger to Mayor White and only a handful of open Council seats. There are several scenarios that could play out to make things lively again, even as soon as 2006:

- The US Supreme Court has still yet to rule on the Texas redistricting, as well as the Vieth v. Jubelirir case from Pennsylvania, in which extreme partisanship in map-drawing was challenged. Either one of those cases could cause the new boundaries to be thrown out. The result would be chaos, which is always a boon for consultants.

- However bleak things are for Democrats now in Harris County, demographic changes continue to favor them. Assuming the local party structure gets its act together (sadly, a nontrivial thing), countywide races ought to be more competitive in 2006 and beyond.

- There will always be political ambition. If there are no offices to be taken away from the other team, then people will turn their sights on what else is available. A seat may be safe for a particular party, but that doesn't mean it'll always be safe for the incumbent. Not everyone is going to wait for officeholders to step down (or step in doodoo) for their shot at glory. If neither of the first two options comes true by 2006, look for more contested primaries. No one's getting any younger, and the longer you wait, the greater the chance someone else will sneak in ahead of you.

- Longer term, there's still the chance that State Sen. Jeff Wentworth's bill for a nonpartisan redistricting committee will get passed. That won't affect anyone until 2012 if it does happen, but better late than never. Keep clipping those coupons in the meantime, fellas.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on March 15, 2004 to Local politics | TrackBack

Given that the current mayor is an ex-state chair of the Democratic Party, you'd think he'd be able to direct the redevelopment of the County Party (as well as raise a boatload of cash for it) and would see the political advantage to doing so. Granted, he's not the County Chair, but he is the biggest dog in the pack and needs to get off the porch. Houston is what, 70%, of the county's population? He ought to be able to raise $1 million with about 50 phone calls, and that would fund a serious party organization through the 2006 cycle. Needless to say, the Party's efforts on his behalf in 2005 would be substantially more effective.

Mayor White, are you listening?

Posted by: precinct1233 on March 15, 2004 11:39 AM

Mayor White can't really afford to be partisan until some of the major obstacles (the pension fund, the budget shortfall, the worst of the road construction) are behind him. The County Commissioners' Court can still screw him at their whim. He probably can't wield too much influence in non-municipal elections until 2006.

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on March 15, 2004 12:16 PM