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Addie Wiseman

The female face of City Council

Houston City Council is majority female for the first time in over a decade.

Starting next year, a record nine women will serve on Houston City Council amid a shift toward a younger and more progressive council for Mayor Sylvester Turner’s second term.

The new council will include no more than two Hispanic and no Asian members, however, with Anglo council members holding at least eight seats and the other six represented by African-American members.

It remains unclear whether District I Councilmember Robert Gallegos, the lone Latino on City Council, will be joined by Isabel Longoria, who finished 12 votes behind incumbent Councilmember Karla Cisneros in the District H runoff, according to unofficial returns.

[…]

The nine total women on council edges the previous record of eight who were elected in 2005.

The council’s African-American representation also will expand from four to six.

Fun fact: That Council class of 2005 included Addie Wiseman and Shelley Sekula Gibbs. I don’t really have a point to make here, I’m just noting that because I remember things like that.

In other Council news:

Regardless of who wins the District H runoff, Latino council members will hold no more than two seats out of 16, in a city where Latinos make up 44.5 percent of the population, according to 2018 census data.

Part of that disparity comes from Latinos making up a smaller share of the electorate: Houston’s registered voters are 23 percent Latino, according to data from Hector De Leon, a former communications director for the Harris County Clerk’s Office who studies Houston-area voting patterns.

“African Americans and Anglos are roughly 45 percent of the population combined, but they constitute 85 percent of the total vote. And elections are determined by people who turn out and vote,” [Jay] Aiyer said.

Registration among young, Latino voters has increased “dramatically” in recent years, in part because of President Donald Trump and mobilization efforts by political groups, said Jeronimo Cortina, a political science professor at University of Houston.

Houston’s Latino voting blocs also have fewer options, he said, because of the city’s use of at-large positions, which are elected on citywide basis.

“The problem is that the minority votes are compacted in one part of the city so it makes it very hard for them to win an election,” Cortina said. “They get drowned, for lack of a better word, by the votes of the majority.”

To strengthen Latino representation on council and in other offices, [CM Robert] Gallegos said he intends to pitch the Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce on the idea of starting a mentoring program to educate young Hispanics about pursuing careers in politics.

In the meantime, Gallegos said, “I’m going to do everything I can to make sure I represent the Hispanic community in the city of Houston, even though I’m a district council member.”

I take issue with what Professor Cortina says – I’m pretty sure a review of the Census tracts in Houston would prove his statement to be inaccurate. If nothing else, Sandra Rodriguez came close to winning District J, which is on the opposite end of the city from H and I. The situation isn’t great right now, but it’s not hopeless.

Be that as it may, let me put this out there for you: The three top Latinx vote-getters in At Large races were Yolanda Navarro Flores (At Large #1, 18.30% in Harris County), Emily Munoz deToto (At Large #2, 21.09%), and Jose Gonzalez (At Large #3, 19.24%). The three of them combined raised literally no money. There were five Latinx candidates in the two open seat At Large races (Cristel Bastida and Javier Gonzalez in #4, Ralph Garcia, Catherine Garcia Flowers, and Sonia Rivera in #5). None of them raised more than a trivial amount of money, though the three in At Large #5 combined for over 27% of the vote, enough to have led the field if they were one candidate.

My point here is that stronger Latinx candidates in the citywide races would also help. I don’t have much to say about Orlando Sanchez, but he came within six points of being elected Controller, and if there had been a third candidate in that race there likely would have been a runoff between him and incumbent Chris Brown, and who knows what might have happened in that race. The Latinx At Large candidates in 2019 didn’t amount to much, but at least they were running. In 2015, there was a grand total of two Latinx candidates in At Large races: Moe Rivera in #2, and Roy Morales in #4, who squeaked into the runoff where he got crushed by Amanda Edwards. I feel like I’ve been saying this since Joe Trevino lost in the At Large #5 runoff to Jolanda Jones in 2007, an election in which there were 25K total votes cast, but maybe focus a little on recruiting strong Latinx candidates to run in the At Large races, and then support them financially? Just a thought.

This is also a possibility.

This near-absence of Latinos undermines the legitimacy of Houston’s government and leads to an inadequate representation of Latino preferences in city policymaking. Houston’s political, economic and societal leaders must take action immediately to insure that in the 2023 election we do not witness a repeat of the 2019 election.

There are two principal types of representation, descriptive and substantive. Descriptive representation reflects the extent to which the composition of a legislature mirrors the population it represents. With Latinos accounting for 6 percent of the council and for 45percent of the population, it’s clear Houston earns a failing grade in descriptive representation. This grade will sink even lower with the dearth of Asian Americans on the council; 7 percent of Houston residents are Asian American.

Substantive representation reflects the extent to which members of a legislature promote the preferences of their constituents. While not an ironclad rule, the American Politics literature suggests that, all other things being roughly equal, an individual’s policy preferences are better represented by a legislator from their own ethnic or racial group. With one Latino council member, the substantive policy interests of Latino residents are being sub-optimally represented in crucial policy areas ranging from public safety and social services to road construction and job creation.

Four initiatives can help boost the number of Latinos in the council horseshoe in four years time.

First, eliminate the city’s five at-large council seats and replace them with five single-member district seats in addition to the existing 11 single-member district seats. The last time a Latino was elected to one of the five at-large positions was in 1999, with nine consecutive elections (45 separate contests) in a row where no Latino has been victorious. This year, all five at-large races were decided in a runoff, yet among the 10 runoff candidates there were zero Latinos.

Once the 2020 US Census data are available, Mayor Sylvester Turner and the city council could easily abolish the five at-large districts and create 16 new, less populous, single-member districts for the 2023 election. Since the shift from at-large to single-member districts enhances minority voting rights, it should be bullet-proof from legal challenge. If the number of single-member districts were increased to 16, it would be possible to draw five or six districts where Latino registered voters constitute an absolute or near absolute majority as well as one district where Asian Americans account for the largest share of voters.

That’s an op-ed from oft-quoted poli sci prof Mark Jones. I personally see no reason why Latinx candidates can’t get elected to at large positions. It’s not like there have been a bunch of frustrating near misses from well-regarded and sufficiently-funded candidates. We did elect Orlando Sanchez and Gracie Saenz to citywide positions in the past. Jones’ other points include things like more voter registration, a focused effort on Latino turnout in city elections, and more recruitment and support of Latinx candidates. I’m on board with all of that, and I would argue that those things can and will lead to Latinx candidates getting elected citywide. If I’m wrong about that, I’ll gladly concede the point about getting rid of At Large districts. In the meantime, I do think there’s some value in having At Large Council members, as a backup for the districts when there’s an unexpected vacancy, as there was in District H in 2009 following Adrian Garcia’s election as Sheriff, and in District K in 2018 following the death of Larry Green. I’m not opposed to Jones’ proposal, but I don’t think it’s necessary to solve the problem.

Still smoking in San Antonio

But maybe not for much longer.

San Antonio City Councilman Justin Rodriguez announced [last] Friday that he is sponsoring an ordinance to outlaw smoking in most public places, including all bars, restaurants and workplaces.

Rodriguez said San Antonio is one of the largest cities in the country without legislation to protect the public from the dangers of second-hand smoke.

“We recently missed out on federal funding because we’re not a smoke-free city,” Rodriguez said. “It’s so important to the future of our community.”

Rodriguez said the new ordinance would close any loopholes in existing anti-smoking laws.

The City Council passed an ordinance in 2003, which a group called the Smoke-Free San Antonio Coalition does not believe went far enough.

“There have been certain criteria that you could have smoking allowed in (some businesses),” said coalition chair Suzanne Lozano, who’s also a registered nurse.

San Antonio is approximately where Houston was before it passed a more extensive smoking ban back in 2006. That was done after Austin voted to adopt a tougher anti-smoking ordinance in 2005; numerous other cities including Dallas and Galveston have since followed suit. Given how common this is now, I don’t suppose it had even occurred to me that San Antonio had lagged behind on this. I expect this to pass fairly easily when it comes to a vote, but there is some opposition on Council.

[City Council member John] Clamp argues that “the market is working,” and banning smoking in San Antonio could push businesses to other municipalities in Bexar County. Customers can choose to go to other places, he said.

But Rodriguez agues that employees can’t.

“I don’t think folks have a choice to work in a smoking or nonsmoking establishment,” he said. “They go where the jobs are.”

Clamp disagrees.

“I think everybody has a choice on where to work,” he said. “If you really think second-hand smoke is bad for you, don’t work in a bar.”

More regulations will hurt business, Clamp said.

“They’ll have to lay off some of their wait staff, for sure,” he said. “If you’re not bringing in enough money, then you’ll have to lay people off.”

Sounds an awful lot like Houston’s debate, with Rodriguez playing the part of then-Council member and smoking ban advocate Carol Alvarado, and Clamp filling in for Michael Berry or Addie Wiseman. Seems to me you could check on Houston’s experience to measure Clamp’s claims if you wanted to. The Houston Press did an informal survey of bars and live music venues in 2007, which suggested it was mostly no big deal, but that’s the last I recall hearing about it. Which is kind of suggestive in itself – if there were a trend of places closing or relocating to less-restrictive unincorporated Harris County, you’d think there’d have been more news about it. My suspicion is that San Antonio’s experience will be like Houston’s, including how the passage of the ordinance plays out. Queblog has more.

Here comes Addie

Timing is everything in this life.

[Former Houston City Council Member Addie] Wiseman tells me she is going to run a full and vigorous campaign to replace State Rep. Joe Crabb. Details are still being worked out, she didn’t have a campaign manager or a treasurer when we talked. However, she said she’s well prepared and feels this is really a good fit for her.

Wiseman was term-limited out in 2007, so this opportunity is coming along at a good time for her. There had been some talk that she might run for Jerry Eversole’s seat on Commissioner’s Court next year when he steps down, but apparently that’s not the case. I expect she’ll have as good a shot as anyone to succeed Rep. Crabb.

Elsewhere in election news, freshman State Rep. Marisa Marquez of El Paso, who ousted longtime Rep. Paul Moreno in a Democratic primary last year, may have a primary opponent oh her own, and State Sen. Dan Patrick says he is running for re-election next year. I don’t know that this “answers weeks of speculation that he might be appointed to or run for” Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison’s seat in the event she steps down, but it is suggestive, since he was under no real time pressure to announce his re-election bid. Still, if KBH does resign and Rick Perry comes a-callin’, do you think he’d say No? I don’t.

Finally, the word today is that Diane Trautman has announced she will run again for Harris County Tax Assessor. I haven’t seen a press release or anything, but it’s been mentioned a few times on Twitter – I’m guessing she said something at today’s HCDP Brown Bag Lunch event – and there’s now a Facebook page for her candidacy. I’ve heard of another possible candidate for this office, but I don’t know where that person stands as yet.

Lawrence looking at Commissioners Court

Something I’d realized recently is that almost everyone in city government who is or would have been term-limited out is running or has run for another office. Mayor White is running for Senate. City Controller Annise Parker is running for Mayor. Council members Ronald Green, Pam Holm, and MJ Khan are running for City Controller. Former member Adrian Gonzalez was in his last term when he got elected Sheriff last year. The odd one out was Toni Lawrence, but that may not be the case any more.

So we hear current City Council Member Toni Lawrence is eying her next move, possibly toward County Commissioner. Multiple people have told me that Lawrence is seriously considering running for Commissioner Jerry Eversole’s seat, whenever that becomes available. She has already begun privately gauging support. Contacted last night, Lawrence said it was definitely something she is looking at. This apparently, after another formidable female elected official decided to take a pass at the seat… again, whenever it becomes available, which of course, it’s currently NOT.

Perhaps the FBI will step in and make CM Lawrence’s decision easier for her, though given that she just moved into the precinct, barely in time to be qualified for the ballot, perhaps she’s already decided. In any event, an open County Commissioners Court seat is one of the ultimate prizes in our government, and if Eversole jumps or gets pushed out of the race you can be sure it’ll be a free-for-all to replace him. I’m confident there will be some Democrats in that mix as well; I know there are recruitment efforts going on now. Certainly, as a challenge to an incumbent, even one like Eversole, it’s a steep climb. I don’t recall the exact numbers offhand, but CC Precinct 4 is redder than Precinct 3 – it’s slightly on the Republican side of 60/40, so any Dem would be a heavy underdog, even in an open seat. Still, you can’t pass something like this up, and if the stars line up and you hit the jackpot, it’s huge.

Oh, anyone have a clue who the “formidable female elected official” that declined to run might be? Leave a comment and let me know.

UPDATE: Stace has more, and his post suggests former City Council member Addie Wiseman as a potential candidate.

UPDATE: I’ve received some feedback that that the “formidable female elected official” in question is State Rep. Patricia Harless, who was in line to be appointed to the seat in the event that Eversole resigned. The word now is that Eversole will stay till the end of his term, and Harless will run for re-election to the State House.