The haters huff and puff with their last breath.
Opponents of Mayor Annise Parker’s proposed Houston equal rights ordinance have vowed to take the issue to voters in a referendum, but now they’re seriously discussing a sort of nuclear option at the polling place: a recall election to remove her and some council members from office.
Although recalling the mayor wouldn’t be easy and the opposition would have to work quickly, the threat alone could cause problems for some city council members.
“This is absurd, it’s unheard of,” said Dave Wilson, a longtime anti-gay activist and critic of Parker who’s fighting the proposed ordinance. “It’s nothing but pure payback for the mayor. She’s paying back her core constituents that supported her.”
Houston’s city charter prescribes the criteria for which an elected official can be recalled – incompetence, misconduct, malfeasance or unfitness for office – but opponents argue the proposed ordinance contradicts state law.
“We consider them to be incompetent,” Wilson said.
The charter decrees that citizens have 30 days to gather enough signatures on petitions to mandate a recall election. The number of signatures required varies for each office, because it amounts to 25% of the number of voters who cast ballots for the elected official involved.
And that’s where it gets interesting. Since fewer people vote in district city council races, it’s much easier to gather enough signatures to trigger a recall election.
Look at the numbers. About 170,000 Houstonians voted for mayor in the last election, so opponents would have to gather about 42,500 signatures to recall Parker. Given only 30 days, that would be difficult.
But substantially fewer people vote in races for district council seats, which are more like neighborhood campaigns. If 10,000 ballots are cast in a council race, only 2,500 signatures are required to trigger a recall election.
I’ll get to some details on this in a minute, but let me say this first: Bring it. Seriously. Let’s settle once and for all who the real majority is. I don’t think Dave Wilson is going to like the answer.
- “The holder of any public office in the City of Houston, whether elected thereto by the people or appointed by the City Council, may be removed from office by recall.” That’s right there in Section 1. The only place where “incompetence, misconduct, malfeasance or unfitness for office” are mentioned is in the wording of the recall petition. Based on that, I don’t think there are any special criteria for initiating a recall – either you get enough signatures in the prescribed time or you don’t.
- From Section 3a: “The petition may consist of one or more papers circulated separately, and the signatures thereto may be upon the paper or papers containing the formal petition, or upon other papers attached thereto; each signer of a petition shall sign his name in ink or indelible pencil. The verification may be made by one or more petitioners, and the several parts of the petition may be verified separately and by different persons, but no signature to such petition shall remain effective or be counted which was placed thereon more than thirty days prior to the filing of such petition or petitions with the City Secretary.” Emphasis mine. My read on this is that the clock starts when the first signature is collected. The petition itself is submitted when/if enough signatures have been gathered. I didn’t see anything in there to suggest there was a constraint on when the signature-gathering effort could begin, nor any cutoff point for when no further signatures could be collected. I sense the possibility of some shenanigans here, but let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves here.
- If this goes forward and if the haters manage to get enough signatures, the actual recall election would be this November – section 7, “the election shall be held on the next available uniform date prescribed by state law”. This would not be a low-turnout off-schedule affair. I’ll leave it to you to decide which side that favors.
So these are the conditions as I understand them. The one thing I know for sure is that if this happens – if the haters manage to collect enough signatures to force this issue onto the November ballot – it’s going to go national. I guarantee this recall election will be as big as anything else in November, and it will draw all kinds of attention and money. You have to wonder what kind of effect this will have on the other races. Like I said, you can make your case for who benefits from this, but generally speaking, the favorite doesn’t want anything unexpected. Look at it this way – to whatever extent Dave Wilson thinks his coalition includes black voters, do you think Greg Abbott wants there to be a campaign to boost black turnout in Harris County? Do you think all the Republican District Court and County Court judges on the ballot want that?
By the way, as long as we’re discussing the possibility of recalling public officials, does anyone know what provisions (if any) exist to recall HCC Trustees? I’ve seen some chatter on Facebook about mounting a counter-recall effort against Council members that vote against the ordinance. I don’t know how effective that might be, given that most of the No votes are likely to come from members in heavily Republican districts. Anyone else will be up for re-election in 2015 anyway, so one way or another they’ll be made to account for their actions. Personally, I think it would be nice to give Dave Wilson a taste of his own medicine. He can’t win if he can’t hide his identity as he did in 2013. If no such provision exists for recalling HCC Trustees exists, then perhaps one of our local legislators can file a bill to that effect. It probably won’t get anywhere, but it would make a point.
Like I said, we’re getting ahead of ourselves. First, the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance actually has to pass. The vote happens tomorrow, after a public comment session, and you should be there to register your support for the HERO. After that, we’ll take it as it comes. The haters’ webpage is here, and I’m sure it will be more than just a landing page soon. I don’t fear these jackasses, but we can’t afford to not take them seriously. Be ready for the next fight, it’s as important as this one is. TransGriot has more.