Defending HERO

It’s a big job, but we can get it done.


“We’re going to do everything we can to win HERO at the ballot box,” [Houston GLBT Political Caucus] president Maverick Welsh said.

It would be Houstonians’ third time voting on protections or benefits for gays, which they rejected in 1985 and again in 2001.

Then, too, the caucus threw its political weight behind the efforts – first to a resounding 4-1 defeat and then to a slimmer margin of three percentage points, or some 7,500 votes.

In recent years, the group formed in 1975 to support gay-friendly candidates has continued to regain the traction it lost in the 1985 election, when no one seeking city office sought its endorsement. This year, more than two thirds of the mayoral contenders are striving for the caucus’ backing, now seen as a stamp of approval for progressive voters.

Only 2013 runner-up Ben Hall and former Kemah mayor Bill King declined to participate in the pre-endorsement screening process, though King responded to the group’s questionnaire.

“Everybody wants to dance with us right now,” Welsh said. “The fight that we’ve been fighting for 40 years is now very mainstream, I think, for most voters.”

According to the Kinder Institute’s recent Houston Area Survey, support for gay rights in Harris County, which includes Houston’s more conservative suburbs, has increased consistently since the early ’90s.

Between 2000 and 2014, support for homosexuals being legally permitted to adopt children grew to 51 percent from 28 percent among Harris County survey participants, while support for giving the same legal status to homosexual and heterosexual marriages increased to 51 percent in 2015 from 37 percent in 2001.


Welsh, caucus president, said he expects the group to be involved in any campaign for HERO, adding that caucus mailings undoubtedly will include pro-HERO information.

However, political observers said the ordinance may present a turnout problem for the caucus, which has established its sphere of influence primarily in low-turnout elections.

“They have shown the ability to motivate a fairly decent share of the vote when you get less than 200,000 people voting,” University of Houston political scientist Richard Murray said. “But if the turnout goes up, then you expect the caucus-influenced vote probably declines as a fraction of the total electorate.”

The city’s last open-seat mayor’s race in 2009 drew just 19 percent of about 935,000 registered voters. On the other hand, more than 28 percent of registered voters showed up at the polls in 2001, when the ballot contained a proposed charter amendment barring the city from providing unmarried partners of the same or opposite sex with employment benefits.

Given that the caucus’ progressive base already consistently shows up at the polls, political observers questioned whether the group would be able leverage its organizational strength and volunteer capacity to appeal to new portions of the electorate.

“It’s a risky vote for them,” Murray said.

Couple things here. First of all, if I have learned anything from studying recent electoral history in Houston, it’s that interesting ballot referenda drive turnout in a way that elections without such referenda do not. Go read that post I just linked to about Houston elections in the 90s and you’ll see what I mean. The 2003 election, which everyone points to as the pinnacle for 21st century turnout in Houston, was greatly aided by the Metro referendum. (This is why the Republicans in the Legislature put the tort “reform” constitutional amendment on the ballot in September – they didn’t want Houston turnout affecting the outcome.) Given all this, I do expect turnout to be higher than usual. Our past history, the stakes of the election, and the amount of attention that will be focused on it all point to that.

Is that an advantage for the anti-HERO crowd? Not necessarily. We know there’s a strong correlation between age and opposition to equality – the younger you are, the more likely you are to favor it, with older folks often being the only group opposed. I’ll have more details on this in a future post, but take my word for this: Houston’s electorate in most municipal election years is already pretty darned old. A strong plurality of voters are over the age of 60. These are the reliable regular voters. There will be more of them in a year like this, but there are a lot more people younger than that who have at least some voting history who are available to turn out. This is – or at least it damn well better be – the first priority for the HERO defense effort. Get out every voter you can under the age of 40. Hell, under 50 is likely to be good enough.

But younger people don’t vote in local elections, I hear you cry. That’s true, but it’s not the whole story. As you can see at that link, one reason why younger people don’t vote in local elections is because they are often fairly new to the city where they are registered to vote. They don’t know the local landscape, they don’t know who represents them in local government, and they don’t feel the same connection to local issues as they do to national ones. (They also tend to not get contacted by the campaigns, since they aren’t reliable voters. It’s a bit of a vicious circle.) But a referendum like the HERO repeal vote is tailor made for them. They don’t need to know anything about the candidates. The issue in question is one they already have established opinions about. It strikes at why they might have chosen to live in this city in the first place – its diversity, its tolerance, its general friendliness to a young/urban lifestyle. If there was ever an opportunity to get a bunch of Presidential-year-only voters to the polls, this is it. If the HERO defenders aren’t putting a huge effort into IDing and targeting the under-40/under-50 crowd, they’re committing malpractice.

That’s the first thing. The other thing is that I don’t believe this election will be about gay rights, per se. I think even hammerheaded jerks like Dave Wilson and Steven Hotze and the rest have begun to figure out that direct homophobia is a losing tactic these days. Strong majorities approve of the Obergfell decision. Gay culture is all around us, and nobody but them objects. Their mostly-fraudulent petition effort was based on the idea of “no unequal rights”, but nobody outside their small group of signatories buys into that. No, what this election will be about is bathrooms and fevered lie-driven fears of sexual predators. You can already see and hear this in the rhetoric of some campaigns and candidates – see Ben Hall for Exhibit A – and I’ve heard it in a couple of interviews so far. Given the character and morals of the people that will be pushing the repeal campaign, you can expect to be soaking in this kind of hateful and dishonest rhetoric once things begin in earnest.

The good news about that is that I don’t think a lot of people have yet given much thought to this issue. Oh, they’re vaguely aware of it, in the way that most people are vaguely aware of most local issues, but it’s not locked in their consciousness yet. For these folks, a different kind of outreach is needed. They will need to hear, from voices they like and trust, why voting the right way on the HERO referendum is something they should do. For that, HERO defenders – and here I’m looking at Mayor Parker, who needs to be the one to make most if not all of the requests I’m about to suggest – should reach out to high-profile Houstonians in sports, music, business, and religion to deliver a message about Houston being the kind of place where everyone is treated equally and respectfully. Given the support of the major sports leagues and the individual teams for equality and non-discrimination ordinances, I’d move heaven and earth to get JJ Watt, James Harden, Jose Altuve, and Carli Lloyd to do a PSA-style ad in which they say something like “My league supports equality. So does my team, and so do I. The Houston we love is open and accepting to all. That’s why I’m [voting the right way] on [whatever the ballot proposition is called], and I ask you to do so, too.” I can’t think of anything the haters could do to counter a message like that, coming from people like that.

There are plenty of other people that could be plugged in to a spot like that, with the script modified to fit them. Bill Lawson. George and Barbara Bush. Beyonce. The members of ZZ Top. Former newscasters Ron Stone and Dave Ward. UH President Renu Khator and Rice President David Leebron. You get the idea. Sure, some may say No for whatever the reason, but I bet many would say Yes, especially if Mayor Parker asked them personally. The key here is to get those spots out quickly, before the haters get their mail and whatever else going. You don’t have to spend much on TV for this – buy a few slots during the evening news and stuff like that, but the real value will be in having them on YouTube. This is about good will, coming from good people. It’s worth a lot, and we should take full advantage of it, because the other side can’t touch it.

So that’s my plan to defend HERO. Maybe it’s unrealistic, but I don’t think it’s unsound. Gear up a ground game to turn out younger voters, and spread a positive message about what makes Houston the city we love to everyone else. I’ll take my chances with that.

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22 Responses to Defending HERO

  1. Jules says:

    According to the Chron, there should be enough Council votes to affirm and put on the ballot. The Chron also says that Bradford would vote to affirm/ballot if the ballot language is changed. What is the ballot language? It does not appear to be in the Council Agenda.

  2. Paul kubosh says:

    Isn’t there some type of election rule that keeps elected.officials from campaigning on city charter.elections? I seem to remember something like that from the red light and drainage fee charters.

    Also the problem with the bathrooms is not Jennifer Pool (I adore.her) its the guys you see on lower westheimer and those guys on Houston press backpage.

    I understand the statistics say don’t worry about it. I agree with those statistics but I would be a little freaked out to see one of the backpage girls going into the bathroom with my daughter.

    As a father I can’t be rational or.objective. about that issue.

    I blame this on the mayor. She could have had an ordinance passed that addressed all of this and it could have passed almost unanimously


  3. voter_worker says:

    You make many good points, and may I add that there are an undetermined number of us who voted in favor of the previous two initiatives and will be voting in favor of this latest one, too. “Then, too, the caucus threw its political weight behind the efforts – first to a resounding 4-1 defeat and then to a slimmer margin of three percentage points, or some 7,500 votes.” Your mention of the 7500 vote spread in 2003 makes me curious about the status of the registered voters in the City’s limited-purpose annexation areas, the number of which almost certainly exceeds that 7500 vote spread. I know they are qualified to vote for candidates for City office; are they qualified to vote on issues such as this? I don’t know, I’m just asking in case you or any of your readers may know. There is a large group of them in Council District E on the west side of Lake Houston, and numerous other smaller groups scattered throughout Harris and Fort Bend Counties.

  4. Voter_worker: That last referendum, which was a Dave Wilson-backed effort to ban what were then called “domestic partner” benefits to city employees, was in 2001. I don’t know the answer to your specific questions. I guess I’d say if their voter registration card shows a “City” value of “061” on it, then they are City of Houston voters, and should see City of Houston races on their ballot, which should include the HERO referendum.

    (The voter registration card has two sides, one with your name and address and VUID number, and one with the various districts (Congressional, State Senate, et al) you are in. The last such listing is “City”, and the value for Houston is “061”.)

  5. voter_worker says:

    My bad on 2003 instead of 2001—thanks for the correction. I asked about the limited-purpose voters because they don’t pay City property taxes and it may be that some sort of distinction linked to that fact exists. Or not.

  6. Manuel Barrera says:

    55,000 people signed the petition for repeal. Contrary to what some people write those were not necessarily fraudulent signatures. The person/persons who signed the page with the signature may have not done it properly or may not have been a registered voter with the City. But, the vast majority of people who signed were City of Houston voters. That number equals about the number of households that the homosexual community mails to, 41,000. Dave Wilson obtain about 24,000 signatures, people had to sign, return, and place postage to return.

    If the persons who do not see eye to eye with the homosexual agenda, energize and work on getting out the vote, not only will the ERO get voted down it may also bring down about two or three homosexual supporters that are present council persons. Don’t have to look much further than an HISD race four years ago where a mild form of “homophobia” allowed an incumbent a win, many predicted the incumbent would lose.

    I personally do not support homosexuals as they have been targeting minority members to gain power, primarily the Latino community. When crabs are pulling you down, one must become like those crabs.

  7. Doug says:

    If you can get (the late) Ron Stone in an ad, you’ll get my vote. Perhaps you meant Steve Smith.

    Figure out how to ease the concerns of daddies with daughters without calling them all haters and you’ll probably win. But it is in your nature to call those who do not agree with you ‘haters’.

  8. Paul kubosh says:



  9. Doug, it’s in my nature to call the people who say and do hateful things “haters”. That emphatically includes the pastors who have repeatedly told shameful lies about large groups of people. What appellation would you suggest I use for them?

    As for Ron Stone, mea culpa. That’s what I get for not using the Google.

  10. Steven Houston says:

    Voter-Worker, those in the growing list of “limited Purpose annexations” do not get to vote. The whole idea is for the city to take advantage of state law and get half a cent sales tax, usually from MUDs, who agree because they get the other half cent. Virtually no city services are provided (they are supposed to provide for certain types of inspections in applicable businesses).

    Manuel, was it ever determined that the “vast majority” were city of Houston voters or was it a case of so many that did not properly comply with lawful petition requirements, that led to so many flawed signatures?

    Paul, don’t you still advertise in the Press too? I can’t say that I’m familiar with the sex ads, not because my pure charm keeps my adulterous bedroom stocked so much as the knowledge that many of those ads are state agents setting up stings. But I don’t see the clear tie between sex workers and sexual predators, the former trying to make a living and the latter not likely to advertise there for little girls. The ordinance did not protect predators in any way, most in the alt lifestyle community not the kind that prey on others in the first place (and frankly, when have paper laws ever truly protected people beforehand?).

    Doug, many support the repeal of the petition based on false or misleading information. The driving forces on the matter feeling the need to lie sure seem to qualify as haters as do a substantial portion of supporters. I agree that painting with a broad brush on either side of the matter does not endear those on the margin to vote.

  11. Jules says:

    The bathroom issue is ridiculous.

    You’d be better off spending your time watching Sandusky-looking creepers going in the the men’s room with your sons.

    Yes, if you have small children you should be concerned about them going off places where strangers are and you are not.

    And what about mothers who bring their sons into the women’s restroom with them? Should we be horrified about that? At what age do you leave your young son outside the restroom door? And what do “daddies with daughters” do when they are out with the kids and they are at that age where they are out of diapers but still need assistance?

    Personally, I think they should make all bathrooms unisex.

  12. Doug says:

    I’ll stipulate that there are haters out there. I can’t debate which pastors are haters and which are not without pointless investigation.

    I don’t think this issue would be as controversial if LGB part was detached from the T part. Some people who want to be in the gender ‘F’ regardless of their body parts. More people, though, want to be in the same gender as those with body parts that match their own. If Jenner wants to be in the same gender as Mary, and Mary doesn’t want to be in the same gender as Jenner, why should Jenner’s rights dominate Mary’s? I don’t have to hate Jenner to see that new rights for Jenner mean less rights for Mary. I don’t think I’m a hater, or Mary either.

  13. voter_worker says:

    @ Steven Houston: I know for a fact that the limited-purpose voters do vote for City offices; my query is whether or not they are eligible to vote on issue items such as HERO.

  14. Paul Kubosh says:

    Steven, I have never advertised in the Houston Press. The Houston Press has run a few articles on me in the past maybe you are confused. Maybe you need to update your Paul Kubosh file. 🙂

    Jules, I agree on the unisex bathroom statement.

    You can’t change my mind on who goes into the bathroom with my daughter (and I know you don’t care if you do) if that wasn’t in the ordinance you would have my vote. As long as it is in the ordinance you don’t have my vote.

    Whether it passes or not I can assure you that the world will not come to an end.

    On a side note it would be great if we could have this much passion over the City’s Budget.

  15. Manuel Barrera says:

    Since pages were eliminated by the former City Attorney, that would suggest that they failed to meet the “lawful” part. From my readings of the news and the case and the pleadings in the lawsuit.

    Anna Russell went over 30% but less than 40% of the signatures and certified them as having over the number needed about 17,000. 31,000 signatures had been verified using VUID- Voter Unique Identifier – so I have assumed that the problem was the “lawful” part, but if someone knows something different they have not spoken up.

  16. Steven Houston says:

    Voter, I looked into it and you were right. They are not allowed to vote on bonds but the small percentage of residences under them can vote for city office:
    “A Limited Purpose Annexation may be conducted as part of a Strategic Partnership Agreement with a utility district. The annexation typically includes commercial property only. Property (ad valorem) taxes are not levied in this type of annexation, but the City may levy a sales tax on retail sales conducted in the area. The SPA identifies which regulations and services, if any, are imposed in the area annexed.”

    PK, that’s curious because I was sure I saw that familiar little ad of yours in a Houston Press I read awhile back, maybe someone stuffed a Greensheet some of them. Of course some of those articles did come off as free advertising too but I wasn’t referring to those. Thanks for the clarification even if I don’t actually keep a file on you (and won’t unless you run for local office). And I would be much happier too if the general population were discussing city spending habits, especially if the general public educated themselves rather than rely on heavily slanted sound bites from known panderers. 😉

    Manuel, that makes sense. I wasn’t aware that the whole of the GLBT community was in on a plot to reduce Latino representation in the area, if a few engaged in dirty tricks it’d make more sense to vilify the individuals rather than the entire community but it’s not like there are no examples of both groups coinciding (your previous mention of Jimmy Galvan for example, a hoot in his speeches in front of city council). No matter how many alternate lifestyle people migrate here in coming years, Latinos will claim their due before long and nothing is going to stop that.

  17. Paul kubosh says:

    Steven, its o.k. we all make mistakes.

  18. Manuel Barrera says:

    Steven, I don’t think I said all, but certainly the group represented by Welch, who just happened to run for District H,, has not done anything to stop what he Welch engaged in. In fact I think the mayor of Houston rewarded him.

    Lane Lewis another top representative of the Homosexual and Democratic community closed and locked the doors on the DREAMERS.

    But you are correct as some people that I have known for years, who happen to identify with the Latino community first and the Homosexual community second do not agree with what the leaders of the Homosexual community are engaging in.

  19. Steven Houston says:

    Manuel, I was referring to your previous comment that: “I personally do not support homosexuals as they have been targeting minority members to gain power, primarily the Latino community.” That statement was all inclusive, hence my question. As you say, there are some who could be labeled under various headings, each more loyal to one heading than another as far as I can see. For me, a candidate’s sexuality is not typically in the first 1000 questions I’d ask about or care about but I suppose if a candidate were bashing or negatively campaigning based solely on sexuality, I would oppose them too (on either side of the coin).

    If it helps put things in perspective, I have yet to find a group that marches in lockstep on all things together, ample GOP voters that wish the party did not leave them in favor of chasing down extremist votes, plenty of democrats that think Lane is lame, etc. There will always be die hard voters that focus solely on the letter next to a candidate’s name on a ballot, we see that each election with straight ticket voting, but there are some that will always vote for “the ____” candidate (insert color, religion, party, or what have you) over the best qualified person running.

  20. Manuel Barrera says:

    I forgive you Steven Houston, for not misunderstanding what I wrote.

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