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Mimi Swartz’s Mayoral campaign rant

Here it is.

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

What if they held a mayoral race and nobody came? That’s the question plaguing many people currently involved in Houston politics—even if no one else in town is asking it. This phenomenon isn’t entirely new: in 2009,* a measly 19 percent of Houston voters turned out for the general election to make a winner out of Annise Parker. That number could wind up looking downright spectacular, however, after the results of the 2015 mayoral race are tabulated on November 3. At this point—about a month out—no one can even use the traditional, if lame, “just-wait–til-Labor-Day” excuse; that holiday has come and gone, and if you ask the average person on the street who he is supporting, the answer is likely to be one big shrug followed by a puzzled squint, accompanied by “Who’s running again?”

One could say that the issues—at least the ones being discussed—aren’t all that compelling. Few people understand, or even want to understand, the pension crisis that is bleeding the city dry while keeping the bank accounts of retired firefighters and policemen safe and secure. Houstonians do know that traffic back-ups and potholes as dangerous as starving raptors now make it impossible to get from point A to point B (or C or D), but residents—especially the long-timers—also comfort themselves knowing that congestion equals growth equals prosperity. A future of potentially uneducated masses in a high-tech world? Isn’t that the school district’s cross to bear? Increased segregation between the haves and the have-nots in this oh-so-hospitable town? Come on! Once oil prices go back up, anyone will be able to buy a mansion in River Oaks.

I’ve covered this before, but what did the 2009 Mayoral election not have that the three preceding high-turnout Mayoral elections (2003, 2001, and 1997*) did? A high profile referendum that helped drive that turnout. In 2003, it was the Metro referendum; in 2001, it was on a charter amendment to ban domestic partner benefits for city employees; and in 1997 it was a charter amendment to ban affirmative action. Past performance does not guarantee future results, but I’d bet the over on 2009 turnout this year. If that doesn’t happen, then we’ll need to have a heart-to-heart talk about how disengaged our local voters are.

As or the rest, like most rants it’s more descriptive than prescriptive, so there’s no argument for me to evaluate. I don’t disagree with the description, but that doesn’t get us very far. Swartz correctly notes that our city voters are old, but gives no suggestion as to what if anything could be done to change that. I figure sooner or later a candidate will invest in that kind of work, and if it pays off then others will follow. Until then, what you see is what you get.

By the way, here’s another story about that 1997 affirmative action referendum, from just before the election. See if any of this sounds familiar to you.

There has never been any dispute about what Proposition A would do if it is approved by voters here on Tuesday: It would abolish affirmative action in Houston’s contracting and hiring.

Nonetheless, there has been a tumultuous fight over just how Proposition A should be worded, one that may well head for the courts even after all the votes are in. And at the core of this battle is a question that is reverberating in other cities and states where anti-affirmative-action measures are gathering steam: should opponents of affirmative action be able to define these measures by using the language of the civil rights movement?

That is exactly what happened in California last year with the passage of Proposition 209, the measure that dismantled state-sponsored affirmative action. Similarly, the conservative group promoting the measure in Houston drew up a proposition with words taken almost directly from the 1964 Civil Rights Act. It said voters should decide whether the city “shall not discriminate against or grant preferential treatment” to anyone “on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin.”

But by the time Mayor Bob Lanier, a staunch proponent of affirmative action, and the City Council were through, the wording on the proposition was totally revised.

So now, when voters in the nation’s fourth-largest city go to the polls on Tuesday, they will be asked whether the city charter should be amended “to end the use of affirmative action for women and minorities” in employment and contracting, “including ending the current program and any similar programs in the future.”

The measure’s proponents say the rewording by the Mayor and the Council is outrageous and heavy-handed, while those who favor the change say it is a more honest and straightforward way of describing what the proposition would do. Behind this fight over words are some striking polling statistics, which help to explain just why the fight has been so pitched and which offer a look at the voters’ complicated feelings about affirmative action.

Phrased as a nondiscrimination measure, Proposition A would likely pass with as much as 70 percent of the vote, according to joint polls conducted in recent weeks by the University of Houston and Rice University. But phrased as a measure to wipe out affirmative action, the results are starkly different: In separate polls conducted last month and earlier this week, 47.5 percent of voters described themselves as favoring that concept.

“Basically, what we found here is that the wording is incredibly important on this issue,” said Bob Stein, a political scientist and dean of the School of Social Sciences at Rice University. Like many pollsters here, he describes Tuesday’s vote as too close to call.

“The wording here defines the issue,” Professor Stein added, “and in defining the issue, you manipulate the symbols.”

In the poll this week of 831 registered voters, 47.5 percent said they would vote for Proposition A and 39.8 percent said they would vote against, with the rest undecided or of no stated opinion. The poll’s margin of error was plus or minus 3.6 percent.

Boy, the more things change, am I right? I wonder how many of the pro-Prop A people in 1997 are now anti-Prop 1 people this year. For the record, Prop A was defeated by a 55-45 margin, so consider that another example of how hard it is to get an accurate poll response in a city of Houston election. I’m trying to keep that in mind with polls about HERO, whatever they say.

(*) To be fair, the 1991 election, in which Bob Lanier defeated Sylvester Turner and ousted then-Mayor Kathy Whitmire, had turnout in excess of 300,000 as well, and there’s no report of a referendum on the results page. Maybe that year was different, or maybe there was something else going on that I don’t know about.

HRBC poll: Turner 24, King 18

Looks like we’re going to see more polling than usual this cycle. This was sent as a press release from the Bill King campaign, which was kind enough to forward the full poll data to me when I requested it:

Thursday, the Houston Realty Business Coalition (HRBC) released a poll of 428 active voters measuring support of Mayoral candidates and important issues facing city voters. The Survey was conducted October 5-6.

“Bill King is the clear choice among fiscal conservative voters,” said Chairman Alan Hassenflu. “Bill King’s message of getting back to basics has earned him the support of our organization and is resonating with voters who are concerned with the current fiscal crisis facing City Hall.”

The poll shows King has emerged from the pack of major mayoral candidates running very close to the presumed frontrunner. Only 13% of Houston voters say they have yet to decide who they will support in the upcoming election.

Founded in 1967, HRBC, comprised of top business leaders, has become Houston’s Premier Business Coalition by supporting public policy, elected officials and candidates for elected office that promote its core values of limited government, capitalism and private property rights.

BALLOT: If the election for Mayor was held today and these were your choices: Ben Hall, Sylvester Turner, Adrian Garcia, Bill King, Steve Costello, and Chris Bell, who would you vote for?

Ben Hall 8 Sylvester Turner 24 Adrian Garcia 14 Bill King 18 Steve Costello 8 Chris Bell 11 Other 4 Unsure 13

HERO ORDINANCE: Do you support the City of Houston’s Prop 1 ordinance, often referred to as the HERO ordinance – the law among other things would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity?

Support 31 Oppose 40 Unsure 13 Refused 16

PENSION: Currently the City of Houston has $3.1 billion in unfunded pension liabilities and has little to no control of the pension funds. Would you support a proposal that would return control of pension funds to the Mayor and allow him to negotiate necessary changes to the current pensions?

Support 31 Oppose 21 Unsure 30 Refused 19

METHODOLOGY:
The sample size for the survey is 428 targeted voters in Houston, Texas. The margin of error is +/- 4.77%. All interviews were completed using automated telephone technology and were conducted October 5-6, 2015 by TargetPoint Consulting. The total percentages for responses may not equal 100% due to rounding.

Full poll data is here. I said yesterday that we might get another poll that doesn’t agree with the HAR poll, I just didn’t expect one so quickly. A couple of things to note: One, in comparison to the HAR poll data, this sample is more Republican, but also younger and slightly less white. I’m gonna guess that means more west side/Clear Lake/Kingwood and less Montrose/Heights/Meyerland. It also highlights the importance of how questions are asked. Note here that the HERO question only refers to “sexual orientation or gender identity”, whereas the HAR poll mirrors the ballot language, which lists all the protected classes under HERO. This is Polling Methodology 101 here, and it’s no coincidence that HAR supports HERO while the HRBC opposes HERO and has backed a slate of candidates (including King) that opposes it as well. There’s nothing wrong with this approach – needless to say, it’s the way HERO opponents are doing their messaging, and very much the way they want people to think about Prop 1 when they vote – but it doesn’t mean this sample is “wrong” and the other one is “right”. It means that messages and campaigns matter, which is why it’s nice that HERO proponents have plenty of resources to get their message out.

UPDATE: Here’s the Chron story, which makes the same points I do.

HAR poll

And some more good news here.

With less than four weeks to go before the election, the Houston mayoral race remains “fluid,” according to a new poll commissioned by the Houston Association of REALTORS® (HAR).

The poll finds Adrian Garcia and Sylvester Turner tied for the lead, with a second tier of closely-clustered candidates, including Chris Bell, Bill King and Stephen Costello. Digging deeper into the numbers yields more insight about those candidates with stronger name identification and favorable ratings, along with those candidates whom the voter would even consider supporting. Complete polling results may be found at www.har.com/poll.

“HAR has always had a voice in political matters affecting local real estate, and we commissioned the poll in an effort to enlighten our members about the candidate that best represents the interests of the citizens of Houston and the real estate industry,” said HAR Chair Nancy Furst. “Our 31,000-member association, the largest trade association in Houston, is regarded as the leading authority on real estate and the integral role it plays in quality of life issues.”

The telephone survey of 500 likely Houston voters was conducted from September 21-24 by American Strategies, a leading Washington, D.C.-based research firm specializing in political polling.

The release of this poll follows the HAR board’s announcement last week that it supports Proposition 1, the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO), in the November 3 City of Houston election. The poll included questions about HERO and showed a majority of Houstonians expressing their intention to vote in favor of the ordinance. Other organizations supporting HERO include the Greater Houston Partnership, Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau, Hotel and Lodging Association of Greater Houston and Houston Apartment Association.

Houstonians will be asked to vote on a new mayor as well as Houston City Proposition 1 (HERO) on the City of Houston ballot on Election Day, Tuesday, November 3.

The poll summary is a good read, too.

Garcia and Turner each capture 19 percent of the vote, almost twice the support of Chris Bell (10 percent), Bill King (10 percent) and Steven Costello (9 percent). Ben Hall (6 percent) and Marty McVey (1 percent) round out the crowded field, with 25 percent who are undecided.

Garcia and Turner are better known than the second tier candidates and each has strong backing from a base constituency. Overall, half of voters have a favorable opinion of Garcia (compared to 24 percent who are unfavorable) while 45 percent are favorable towards Turner (28 percent unfavorable). Garcia wins a majority (51 percent) of Hispanic voters, and also shows relatively strong backing from whites (17 percent). Garcia has more bi-partisan support than other candidates: he wins 21 percent of self-identified Democrats and 17 percent of Republicans (second only to King with 21 percent). Turner, by contrast, wins 55 percent of African-American voters and 11 percent of whites. He leads among Democrats with 32 percent, but wins just three percent of Republicans.

The front-runners have room to grow their support. For starters, their personal favorable ratings exceed their current vote. In addition, nearly one-third of those who are not currently supporting Garcia say there is a fair chance (18 percent) or small chance (12 percent) that they will vote for him – virtually identical to Turner’s numbers among those who are not currently voting for Turner (16 percent fair chance they will vote for him; 13 percent small chance).

[…]

The effect of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance on the mayoral contest is not clear. Just over half currently vote “For” HERO (52 percent), with 37 percent against and 10 percent undecided. Passions are high on the issue: 44 percent are very certain to vote “For” and 30 percent very certain to vote against. In the mayoral contest, by comparison, only 34 percent of voters are “very certain” of their candidate choice.

The results are similar in nature to the previous poll, which was done in June before we knew HERO was going to be on the ballot. Full poll data is here. I am always wary of polls done on the city of Houston because of the tricky nature of determining who really is a “likely voter”, but as with that June poll I have no major quibbles. This sample is old (67% are 55+, with 40% being 65+), white (62%), and well off (40% college graduates plus 24% post-grads), and that’s usually the kind of electorate we get in odd years. That said, HERO is of course a wild card. The Chron highlights this.

However, Rice University political scientist Mark Jones cautioned that the poll does not account for non-traditional city voters who may show up at the polls this year to vote on the ordinance, known as HERO.

It also likely under-represents support for Turner, Hall and potentially Garcia, Jones said, as it surveyed lower percentages of African American and Hispanic voters than are expected to turn out in November, given that there are two black candidates and one Hispanic candidate in the top-tier.

Sixty two percent of respondents identified as white, 20 percent as black, 10 percent as Hispanic and 2 percent as Asian.

“This survey would appear to be underestimating African American turnout by at least 10 percent and perhaps a little more,” Jones said.

“If there are people who are being driven to turnout by the HERO ordinance or by Adrian Garcia’s mobilization of the Hispanic community, they would not be represented,” he added.

As I’ve said, I do believe HERO will drive some turnout, as past city referenda have done. That’s not the same as saying that any of the candidates on the ballot will drive turnout. Sylvester Turner has run for Mayor before. So have Ben Hall, Lee Brown, Gene Locke, Orlando Sanchez, Gracie Saenz, and Roy Morales. Did any of them affect African-American and/or Latino turnout in their races? What were the African-American and Latino turnout rates in their races? I have no idea. Perhaps Mark Jones does, but either he didn’t say or his answer wasn’t included.

I guess what I’m saying is that while I’ve said repeatedly that I expect higher than usual turnout because of HERO, I more or less expect the racial and ethnic demographics of the electorate to be roughly the same. There’s lots of room for overall turnout to grow without that turnout needing to be disproportionately from one group. Do I know this to be the case? Of course not. Could there be a surge in African-American and/or Latino and/or Asian turnout? Absolutely, and for sure Turner and Hall and Garcia are working on that. So, while this result is encouraging – I’d always much rather be up 52-37 in a poll than down 52-37 – it’s hardly gospel. The next poll, whenever that may be, could show a very different result but look just as plausible. Do not take anything for granted.

30 day finance reports: Pro- and anti-HERO

Some good news here.

HoustonUnites

Supporters of Houston’s contentious equal rights ordinance raked in $1.26 million during seven weeks of official fundraising, more than doubling opponents’ efforts and fueling a fierce and frenzied media campaign to court voters before the law hits the November ballot.

In campaign finance reports filed Monday that reflect late summer totals, both sides spent more than $550,000, largely on dueling TV and radio ads. But the more than $521,000 that supporters of the law still had left in campaign coffers as of Sept. 25 dwarfed the $58,000 that opponents reported in cash-on-hand.

[…]

In the battle over the city’s equal rights ordinance, Jared Woodfill, spokesman for opponents, said the campaign is unfazed by supporters’ significant fundraising totals.

Opponents reported a $100,000 donation from conservative developer Al Hartman, $25,000 from Harris County Commissioner Jack Cagle and $5,000 from Houston state Rep. Gary Elkins, among others. Longtime anti-gay activist Steve Hotze also loaned the campaign $50,000.

“We’re absolutely not intimidated at this point,” Woodfill said. “I believe the momentum is in our favor and clearly this is an ordinance that the people in Houston don’t want.”

In a news release, the Houston Unites campaign said it expected to spend $2 million before the November election.

The campaign said 80 percent of its nearly 700 donors are Houston residents.

But its efforts were also fueled by big-ticket contributions from national groups and figures.

The Washington, D.C.- based Human Rights Campaign contributed more than $200,000, and New York philanthropist Jon Stryker, a frequent donor to LGBT causes, pitched in $100,000. Colorado’s Gill Action and New York-based American Unity Fund, both LGBT advocacy groups, donated a combined $200,000.

Campaign manager Richard Carlbom, in a written statement, said the group had “certainly done well on the money front so far.”

“But, there is a great sense of urgency around fundraising this week and next,” Carlbom said. “We know from past ballot campaigns that equal rights opponents spend significant dollars in the final weeks. We must remain competitive with them in what will, no doubt, be a close election.”

The story has some highlights of candidate finance reports as well. Those can be found here, same place as the July reports. Reports for PACs can be found on the usual city finance webpage – here’s the Advanced Search link; select either the “Specific-Purpose Political Committee” or “Both” radio button, then click the “Search” button next to the “Candidate/Committee” name boxes. Latest results are on the last pages, so go to page 4; the only relevant result on page 3 is for Brenda Stardig’s campaign PAC.

There are three PACs of interest regarding HERO. Two are pro-HERO: the Houston Unites Against Discrimination PAC and the Human Rights Campaign Houston Equal Rights PAC. One is anti-HERO, the Campaign for Houston PAC. There is a “No on Houston Prop 1” PAC that shows up in the search results, but it reports no funds raised or spent.

Here’s a summary of the reports for the three active PACs mentioned above:

PAC name Raised Spent Loans On Hand ============================================================== Houston Unites 1,262,893 597,299 0 521,462 Human Rights Campaign 218,480 205,810 0 11,503 Campaign for Houston 274,785 492,231 50,000 18,494

Houston Unites had $901K in cash contributions and $359K in kind. It also reports $6,800 in loans on summary page 3, though I didn’t see any explanation of that. Some of their big donors are as follows:

Human Rights Campaign 205,810 Gill Action LLC 100,000 American Unity Fund 100,000 ACLU of Texas 95,000 Freedom For All Americans 50,000 Wes Milliken 50,000 Texas Freedom Network 25,000 Equality Texas 12,500 Annise Parker campaign 5,000 Robert Gallegos campaign 1,000

So basically, the HRC PAC was a passthrough, as all the funds they raised ($200K of which came from themselves) went to the Houston Unites PAC. A lot of these same big donors were also the main suppliers of in kind contributions, which mostly amounted to staff time and office space:

ACLU Texas 137,187 Freedom for All Americans 124,017 Human Rights Campaign 50,144 ACLU (national office) 16,750 Texas Freedom Network 15,139 Equality Texas 10,625

The expenses listed were fairly straightforward. About $360K was allocated for advertising. Some $158K was for consulting to a group called Block by Block; there were some smaller consultant expenses as well. There was about $37K for printing, and $5K for polling.

And here are the big donors for Campaign for Houston:

Allen R Hartman 100,000 Jack Cagle PAC 25,000 Ralph Schmidt 25,000 Mickey Ellis 20,000 Texans for Family Values PAC 10,000 Mac Haik Ford 10,000 Law Office of Melanie Flowers 10,000 Ryan Sitton 10,000 Anthony McCorvey 10,000 Johnny Baker 10,000 Edd Hendee 5,000 Paul Pressler 5,000 Dan Huberty 5,000 William Carl 5,000 Jay E. Mincks 5,000 Malcolm Morris 5,000 Gary Elkins 5,000 Dwayne Bohac 1,000 Jodie L. Jiles 1,000 Norman Adams 1,000

That’s $268K of the $275K they reported raising. Grassroots, they ain’t. There are some familiar names in this list. Jack Cagle is County Commissioner in Precinct 4. Ryan Sitton is a Railroad Commissioner. Dan Huberty, Gary Elkins, and Dwayne Bohac are all State Reps. Texans for Family Values is the main source of anti-gay wingnuttery at a state level. Edd Hendee is (was? I don’t listen to AM radio) a talk radio host and the owner of the Taste of Texas restaurant. I don’t recognize a lot of the other names, but I’m glad I’ve never bought a car from Mac Haik or sought legal services from Melanie Flowers.

The expense side of their report is weird. Two line items totaling $200,350.50 are to American Express for unitemized expenses. I mean, these are presumably credit card bills, so they could be for just about anything – office supplies, food, consulting expenses, strippers and porn downloads, who knows? It’s their responsibility – requirement, actually – to specify what these expenses are. My guess, if I were forced to make one, is that these are their line items for advertising costs, as there’s basically nothing else for that. But that’s just a guess, and I should note that while they listed $492,231 in total expenses on their summary page, the individual expense items only add up to $291,880. Is there an error in their form, or are there another $200K in expenditures they’re not reporting? Like I said, it’s on them to tell us. I for one will feel free to speculate wildly until they do so.

Those are the highlights for now. I am posting 30 day reports as I find them to the Election 2015 webpage. I’ll have a closer look at the reports for citywide candidates next week. Any questions about this, leave ’em in the comments.

Interview with Lou Weaver

Lou Weaver

Lou Weaver

This week’s interviews are going to be about the referendum for the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, which the Supreme Court ordered to be on the ballot. It is City of Houston Proposition 1, with a Yes vote being in favor of keeping the ordinance, which as a reminder prohibits discrimination in city employment and city services, city contracts, public accommodations, private employment, and housing based on an individual’s sex, race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, familial status, marital status, military status, religion, disability, sexual orientation, genetic information, gender identity, or pregnancy. Lou Weaver is a consultant and activist in the LGBT community, helping various groups by by educating, training, and advising on matters of inclusion, equal access, equal care, and the equal treatment of transgender individuals. He was one of many people who worked hard to get HERO passed last year. We talked about his experiences as a transgender man and what HERO means to him and the city:

You can see all of my interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2015 Election page.

Interview with Monica Roberts

Monica Roberts

Monica Roberts

This week’s interviews are going to be about the referendum for the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, which the Supreme Court ordered to be on the ballot. It is City of Houston Proposition 1, with a Yes vote being in favor of keeping the ordinance, which as a reminder prohibits discrimination in city employment and city services, city contracts, public accommodations, private employment, and housing based on an individual’s sex, race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, familial status, marital status, military status, religion, disability, sexual orientation, genetic information, gender identity, or pregnancy. Monica Roberts is awriter, award winning activist, lecturer, speaker, native Houstonian and Texan who transitioned in 1994 and blogs about politics, transgender issues, and other things at TransGriot, which will be celebrating its ten year anniversary shortly. She was also heavily involved in getting HERO passed and in defending it at the ballot box. Here’s what we talked about:

You can see all of my interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2015 Election page.

Interview with Richard Carlbom

HoustonUnites

This week’s interviews are going to be about the referendum for the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, which the Supreme Court ordered to be on the ballot. It is City of Houston Proposition 1, with a Yes vote being in favor of keeping the ordinance, which as a reminder prohibits discrimination in city employment and city services, city contracts, public accommodations, private employment, and housing based on an individual’s sex, race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, familial status, marital status, military status, religion, disability, sexual orientation, genetic information, gender identity, or pregnancy. Houston Unites is the primary campaign for Proposition 1, so it only made sense for me to speak with the campaign manager for Houston Unites, Richard Carlbom, whose name I unfortunately mangled in the opening of the interview; I had originally read the “m” at the end of his surname as “rn”. I can’t even blame my glasses for that, as I have a new pair with a tighter prescription. Anyway, here’s the interview:

You can see all of my interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2015 Election page.

Endorsement watch: A bad call

I’m sorry, I don’t get this at all.

Laurie Robinson

Laurie Robinson

The race for the At-Large 4 City Council seat offers two of the most capable candidates running this fall. Amanda Edwards, a municipal finance attorney with Bracewell & Guiliani, and Laurie Robinson, a government oversight contracting auditor who runs her own consulting firm, are thoughtful and knowledgeable about city issues. Both are impressive.

[…]

Our choice, and it’s almost a toss-up, is Laurie Robinson, and it’s a choice based on her years of experience with government-related endeavors. Although her opposition to the city’s equal rights ordinance gives us pause – she says she favors an ordinance in principle, but this one has become too divisive – we believe she will be an effective councilmember from her first day in office.

Although we endorse Robinson, we recognize that her chief opponent has the potential to be an influential voice in public affairs and public service for years to come. Whether Amanda Edwards wins or loses this time, it’s a win for Houston if she stays involved.

It’s not that I expected Edwards to get the endorsement. It’s that I expected all of the Chron’s prior editorializing on HERO to mean something. If support for HERO – which Laurie Robinson expressed in her interview with me before doing a 180 for reasons unclear – isn’t enough to serve as a tiebreaker in a case like this, then what exactly does the Chron’s stated support for HERO mean? Why say you support something if you don’t back the candidates that agree with you on it? And I’m sorry, but saying HERO “has become too divisive” is a load of baloney. It’s like saying President Obama is “too divisive” because a significant portion of the Republican Party has gone completely bonkers since his election in 2008. Over 200 cities across the US have equal rights ordinances exactly like Houston’s. It is completely mainstream. One hundred percent of the divisiveness is the fault of the extreme zealotry of people like Jared Woodfill, Dave Welch, and Dave Wilson. Shame on the Chronicle for being so gullible.

The real tragedy of this is that Laurie Robinson is a genuinely well-qualified candidate. She made a bad decision in renouncing her prior support for HERO, and she does not deserve to be rewarded for it. Again, I don’t understand why the Chronicle doesn’t understand that. The time for Amanda Edwards, whose interview is here, to be an influential voice in public affairs and public service is now. I recognize that, and I hope you do too, even if the Chronicle doesn’t.

Bad choice, Lance

Very disappointing.

HoustonUnites

Lance Berkman, former Houston Astros star and Texas native, has waded into the fight for LGBT protections, sharing his views in a new ad campaign this week. At the center of Berkman’s concern is Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO), a nondiscrimination law similar to those on the books in cities across the country and the subject of an intense debate leading up to the November 3 vote.

Berkman is focused on the part of the law that applies to public accommodations like bathrooms; he echoes the anti-trans rhetoric used by HERO’s opponents as he urges Houston residents to vote against the measure, invoking his four daughters and his desire to protect them from “troubled men” going into women’s restrooms.

“Proposition 1, the bathroom ordinance, would allow troubled men to enter women’s public bathrooms, showers, and locker rooms. This would violate their privacy and put them in harm’s way,” he says in the ad, produced by Campaign for Houston.

In an accompanying video Berkman adds, “It’s crazy and it kinda makes me want to say… Wake up, America! That’s what I want to scream at people because I mean, what are we doing here? We have the potential for men going into a women’s bathroom. The very few people that this could even be slanted as discriminating against, is it worth putting the majority of the population at risk?”

[…]

Berkman told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that his opposition to the measure was based on the one equal-access application that would allow trans people to use any bathroom they consider to be consistent with their gender identity. He tried to walk back the reference to “troubled men,” saying it was not in reference to transgender people: “That language refers to that scenario or a voyeur — somebody who goes into a women’s bathroom and just likes to look at people. That to me is troubled.”

The situation Berkman describes is virtually unheard of, however. According to the Advocate, “although hundreds of trans-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinances have been in force in cities around the country for several decades, there has never been a verifiable, reported instance of a trans person harassing a cisgender person, nor have there been any confirmed reports of male predators ‘pretending’ to be transgender to gain access to women’s spaces and commit crimes against them.”

See, that’s what happens when you make statements based on lies. You really look like an idiot when you get called on it. I have no idea where this idea that it’s okay to discriminate against some people, based on a fevered dream of something that might maybe someday happen, but I’m pretty sure that anyone who would say that is fully confident that he himself will never be part of any group that would ever be discriminated against. All I can say is that this attitude is exactly why we need anti-discrimination ordinances.

By the way, I don’t know if anyone has explained this to Lance Berkman, but the city Saint Louis (as well as Saint Louis County), where he played for two seasons and where he was just feted at a Cards game, has the same non-discrimination ordinance that Houston passed. Lots and lots of cities do. There’s a reason why the Houston Association of Realtors has endorsed HERO. It was good for Saint Louis, and it is good for Houston.

In the spirit of dispelling the kind of BS that Lance Berkman has unfortunately chosen to help spread, here’s the newest ad from Houston Unites:

I know that facts have limited capacity to persuade people whose minds are already made up, but they’re still the facts. Why would you trust anyone who would so shamelessly lie to you? OutSports has more.

Endorsement watch: HERO ain’t everything

I predicted that the Chron would endorse CM Kubosh, so I can’t say that I’m surprised that they endorsed him. That said, their logic is always a sight to behold.

CM Michael Kubosh

CM Michael Kubosh

At a City Hall filled with lawyers, urban planners and technocrats, Kubosh stands out as an elected official who tries to put the will of the people first. Often that means opposing referenda-driven politics, such as red-light cameras, the homeless feeding ordinance and the Houston equal rights amendment (HERO). But sometimes it just means dancing for the crowd.

Kubosh’s circus show might as well be a metaphor for his two years on City Council. He’s more jolly Santa Claus than nimble elf, but the 64-year-old bailbondsman has been able to deftly maneuver his way through Houston’s political beats like few other elected officials can. These skills were on full display during the passage of HERO. During the weeks of debate, Kubosh met with members of Houston’s LGBT community at town hall meetings, talking to them and listening to their concerns. At Council meetings, Kubosh routinely tried to assure HERO opponents that their voices were being heard. When he met with the Chronicle editorial board, he emphasized that his vote against the ordinance and his continued opposition was about procedure and unintended consequences, not hatred or fear of the LGBT community.

“This was all being done in the back rooms during the Easter holiday by the Greater Houston Partnership and with the lawyers from the city at the mayor’s bidding, and only two council members, I understand, were involved,” Kubosh said. However, this process argument hasn’t stopped him from propagating false, fear-mongering rhetoric against the non-discrimination ordinance. If HERO were the only issue on the agenda for City Council’s next term, Kubosh’s actions would be reason enough to boot him from office. Yet the days will pass, Houstonians will vote on HERO, and a new council will have to confront all the usual problems of potholes, pensions and public safety. On those important issues, none of the challengers for this seat have made a convincing case that they would do a better job than Kubosh.

[…]

In this race, Kubosh faces two serious challengers. Doug Peterson, 64, served as press agent for the astronaut corps at the Johnson Space Center and John LaRue, 30, is a local attorney who practices family law. Peterson, who lives in Clear Lake, makes a compelling argument about the need for an at-large councilman who can represent suburban issues, but that isn’t reason enough to boot an incumbent.

Whatever. I personally think that “propagating false, fear-mongering rhetoric” against a population that has every reason to feel hated and feared by it is a pretty big strike against someone, but maybe that’s just me. I said in my guess-the-endorsements post that outside of HERO Kubosh had done nothing to disqualify himself, and I’d even say that he’s done a good job otherwise. It’s a question of how much HERO – not just the vote, but the “propagating false, fear-mongering rhetoric” – means to you.

GOP versus Hall

Pass the popcorn.

RedEquality

The Harris County Republican Party released a flyer Monday attacking Houston mayoral candidate Ben Hall for his Democratic ties and previous support for a nondiscrimination ordinance.

Among top-tier mayoral candidates, Hall, a Democrat, is the most ardent critic of the city’s equal rights ordinance, known as HERO. The law is set to appear on November’s ballot.

“Ben Hall says yes to HERO ordinance in 2013,” the GOP flyer reads, citing a 2013 Harris County Democratic Party questionnaire on which Hall said he would support a nondiscrimination ordinance.

The ad also labels Hall a “current Democratic Party sustaining member” and claims he contributed more than $100,000 to Democrats, including President Barack Obama, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Secretary of State John Kerry, citing campaign finance reports.

Hall responded in a statement Tuesday afternoon saying he has been “crystal clear” on HERO.

“Ben Hall is the only candidate, Democrat or Republican, who has been opposed to the HERO ordinance from the very beginning, long before the campaign began for Houston Mayor, long before the court put it on the November ballot,” he said.

The full Chron story is here, and here’s the interview I did with Hall in 2013. I have no desire to go back and listen to it, but my recollection is that he said No when I asked if he would support an equal rights ordinance. He wasn’t a firebrand about it, just matter-of-fact. I also recall being surprised by that, as to my knowledge he hadn’t been opposed it before. I can’t swear to that latter part, I can just say what I remember thinking at the time. Whether Hall is virgin pure on hating HERO since the dawn of time or he cynically came to oppose it as a matter of political expediency somewhere along the line is irrelevant to me, and should be irrelevant to any decent person. He’s a hater now, he’s loud and proud about it, and that’s what matters.

Not that I really care, but I am a little curious as to why the Harris County GOP decided to pick this fight. I get their objections, I just think this is an odd hill to engage on. Hall’s HERO history was no problem for uber hater Steven Hotze, who endorsed Hall, among others. It’s fine by me if the antis spread their votes around in the Mayor’s race; better odds for good candidates making it to the runoff that way.

Anyway. I’ve seen some people asking about which candidates support what things – HERO and otherwise. You can listen to my interviews, of course, or do something crazy like check out the candidates’ websites and attend candidate forums and things like that. If you’re looking for a shortcut, both the local GOP and the HCDP have candidate guides that may help answer your questions. And at some point, one presumes, the candidates – the Mayoral candidates in particular – will start flooding our mailboxes and the airwaves. Greg has more.

We’re (about to be) Number 3!

In population. By the year 2025. Suck it, Chicago!

HoustonSeal

Hidden in the haze of the petrochemical plants and beyond the seemingly endless traffic jams, a Texas city has grown so large that it is poised to pass Chicago as the third biggest in the United States in the next decade.

Houston has been one of the fastest-growing U.S. cities for years, fueled by an energy industry that provided the backbone of the economy, low taxes and prospects of employment that have attracted job seekers.

But Houston also embodies the new, urban Texas, where political views have been drifting to the left, diversity is being embraced and newer residents are just as likely to drive a hybrid as a pickup truck.

Houston’s move is also indicative of demographic shifts unfolding in the United States that will increase the population and political clout of the Lone Star State over the next several decades.

Within eight to 10 years, Houston is forecast by demographers in the two states to pass Chicago, which has seen its population decline for years, as the third-largest city.

Houston is projected to have population of 2.54 million to 2.7 million by 2025 while Chicago will be at 2.5 million, according to official data from both states provided for their health departments. New York and Los Angeles are safe at one and two respectively.

Houston has long been associated with the risk takers in the oil industry and more recently as one of the better cities to find a job.

“Texas has a long tradition, and Houston has it in spades, that we are not so much interested in where you are from. We want to know what you can do,” Houston Mayor Annise Parker said in an interview with Reuters.

Chicago officials were not immediately available for comment.

And indeed, what could they say? Jokes aside, I confess to being a little wary of this projection when I first looked at it, but given that the city’s population has grown almost as much in the 2010-2014 period as it did between 2000 and 2010, I can see how we might get there. Our growth hasn’t always been even – far from it – and it’s demonstrably less in bad economic times (like the oil bust days in the 80s), so this is hardly a guarantee. But while the eventual date might not be set, the trend seems clear. Yay for us!

A lot of the story has the annoying tone of someone who’s never set foot in the state, much less Houston itself, but we’re all used to that by now. It also contains a cautionary note:

On social issues, residents in one of the most racially diverse U.S. cities are seen as “tolerant traditionalists” who espouse conservative values and open minds when it comes to social issues, according to a poll from the Kinder Institute for Urban Research at Houston’s Rice University.

Residents generally have a positive view of immigrants, favor same-sex marriage and are more progressive than the state’s socially conservative Republican leadership, it said.

Pending the outcome of the HERO referendum, of course. Remember all that positive press Houston got in 2009, not just nationally but globally, when Annise Parker was elected? Sure, a lot of it was based on the same blissfully provincial ignorance about Houston – who could have possibly thought that an OIL TOWN in a backwards hellhole like Texas could elect a GAY MAYOR?!? – but for all that it was positive, and made some people reassess their view of our fair city. What kind of a reaction do you think we’ll get it we repeal an equal rights ordinance? I for one would rather not find out. The Press and Texas Leftist have more.

Endorsement watch: What needs to be said

The Chron’s endorsement of HERO is both the most obvious call they’ll make and a pleasant surprise in terms of how they did it.

HoustonUnites

Let’s be frank: The organized opposition to Houston’s proposed equal rights ordinance is mendacious, deceitful and irresponsible in the extreme. Attorney Jared Woodfill and his opposition cohorts know that nothing in the ordinance – repeat, nothing – allows male sexual predators dressed in drag to lurk in women’s restrooms waiting to attack women and little girls. If they don’t know, then they haven’t read the ordinance.

And if any city or county across the country, including Texas, has had a dangerous incident with transgender individuals making women uncomfortable by barging into the wrong bathroom, we haven’t heard about it. The opponents know they cannot come up with reports of transgender women assaulting anyone in public bathrooms after the passage of anti-discrimination ordinances. They don’t exist.

States as diverse as Iowa, Hawaii, Maine and New Mexico, 17 in all, report no evidence of the kind of abuse or assaults that the Houston opponents are predicting. Fort Worth was the first Texas city to pass a nondiscrimination ordinance, 15 years ago. Neither Fort Worth nor any other Texas city has reported problems.

As Richard Carlbom with the pro-ordinance Houston Unites campaign told the Chronicle: “Nothing in the equal rights ordinance changes the fact that it is – and always will be – illegal to enter a restroom to harm or harass other people.” And as Chronicle columnist Lisa Falkenberg pointed out recently, if sexual predators “wanted to attack you in a public bathroom, they wouldn’t need a city ordinance to do it.”

For ordinance opponents, facts are irrelevant. They’re using what they consider their most effective tool to defeat an ordinance that partially benefits a group of people whose lifestyle they don’t support. That’s their real motive. They know that their best hope is to prey on parents’ concerns about the safety of their children and to gin up always lurking discrimination against gays and the transgendered. To be blunt, they’re playing their fellow Houstonians for chumps.

[…]

We appreciate the need for debate, even though we strongly believe that Houston needs an equal rights ordinance. What we don’t need is a nasty, cynical campaign playing on voters’ fear and ignorance. This great city is bigger than that.

The equal rights ordinance is Propostion One on the November ballot. We urge Houstonians to vote YES.

I’ve been saying a lot of this stuff all along, and I couldn’t agree more. I remain optimistic but not yet confident. Everyone needs to do their part.

Business groups get into the HERO campaign

Welcome to the table, fellas.

HoustonUnites

Three major local business and hospitality groups are warning voters that the city’s economy could take a hit if Houston’s embattled equal rights ordinance is repealed in November, boosting supporters’ attempts to cast the law as not only a moral issue but also a practical one.

The Greater Houston Partnership, Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau and Hotel and Lodging Association of Greater Houston released a joint statement Thursday backing the ordinance and calling Houston “a diverse and welcoming city.”

“Discrimination of any kind is not a Houston value; it’s bad for the people of our city and it’s bad for our economy,” the statement read.

[…]

Though the Partnership originally expressed reservations about early drafts of the law, it eventually publicly supported the ordinance before City Council passed it 11-6 last year. A.J. Mistretta, a spokesman for the Visitors Bureau, said Partnership President Bob Harvey encouraged the group to issue the joint statement.

Houston Unites campaign manager Richard Carlbom said the groups’ support demonstrates a desire in the business community to remain competitive with other large cities that already have similar nondiscrimination policies in place.

“If this gets repealed, I think a lot of folks will look at Houston and wonder if they should send employees here or hold conferences here,” Carlbom said. “They will wonder whether or not there are the appropriate protections in place.”

The argument is not new. Mayor Annise Parker and other officials long have warned that Houston’s selection to host the 2017 Super Bowl and the 2016 NCAA Final Four, for instance, could be in jeopardy if the law is repealed.

“Houston simply isn’t the City it was 20 or 30 years ago,” Parker said last month. “It is this open and inclusive atmosphere that helps make Houston attractive to new residents, new business, major sporting events like the Super Bowl and more. The ongoing effort by this group threatens to hurt that image and our progress.”

Gotta say, I was a little afraid that the GHP was going to sit on its hands during the campaign, and let others do the heavy lifting. I’m delighted to be proven wrong about that, though I hope this statement isn’t the extent of their involvement. And again, however you feel about HERO, if you think there won’t be consequences if it gets repealed, you’re kidding yourself. We can argue about what the extent of the consequences might be, and whether or not the Super Bowl and Final Four are really in jeopardy – I personally don’t think the NFL or NCAA would move them on that short notice, but for sure we’d be out of the running for future events like those, and other already-scheduled events could get canceled – but the question is not “if” but “how much”. I would like for the GHP to reinforce that message as much as possible. And just as a reminder, despite what the likes of Jared Woodfill and Ben Hall would like you to believe, HERO is about a lot more than bathrooms.

A broader overview of the Mayor’s race

The TL;dr version of this is basically “meh, not much happening”.

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

With a bevy of candidates and midyear fundraising that collectively topped $7 million, Houston’s 2015 mayoral race has been poised to be a blockbuster.

Yet, just five weeks before the start of early voting, the race has remained relatively stagnant.

For the most part, the candidates still are spending little, agreeing often and floating only modestly different visions for the city’s future.

“This election has unfolded so far to be an election of single-interest forum after single-interest forum,” said local political observer Darrin Hall, who previously worked for mayors Annise Parker and Bill White. “There’s not a big picture – four major points that any candidate is exposing – like in years past.”

Put another way, the race to succeed term-limited Parker, essentially, is a popularity contest that at least five candidates still have a shot at winning, Democratic political consultant Keir Murray said.

It goes on, and while it won’t tell you much you didn’t already know if you’ve been following the race, it’s a good overview and I broadly agree with it. I am a little surprised that with all the money in the race there hasn’t been more TV advertising. If there’s one thing we should have learned from the last couple of municipal elections in this town, it’s that nobody should overestimate their name ID. Outside of Adrian Garcia, none of the candidates should be too comfortable in the percentage of voters who have heard of them. I get the argument that they;re keeping their powder dry until a runoff, but the harsh fact is that only two people are going to need it for the runoff, and if as everyone seems to think one of them will be Sylvester Turner, then I’m not sure what the purpose of waiting is.

Beyond that, the big x factor is what effect HERO will have on turnout. I feel confident saying turnout will be up from 2009, but I have no idea by how much, nor do I have any idea how many HERO-motivated voters will bother to cast ballots in the actual races. The number of HERO-only voters could be quite large. Consider that in 2005, the year of the anti-gay-marriage constitutional amendment, turnout in Houston was an amazing 332,154 voters, or well over 30%, but only 181,841 people cast votes in the Mayor’s race. To be fair, that year’s Mayoral election was a king-size snoozer, as Bill White cruised to re-election with over 90% of the vote, but still. Over 40% of all people who turned out to vote that year couldn’t be bothered to cast a vote for Mayor. I seriously doubt that will be the case this year, but I do believe that while more people than usual will undervote, that will still leave a lot of people casting ballots. Just compare 2005 to 2007 to see what things might have been like in the absence of a high-profile ballot item. The bottom line is that some number of people will show up specifically to vote on HERO, and some number of them will then decide that as long as they’re there, they may as well vote in those other races, too. What effect that will have on the outcomes is anyone’s guess, and the sort of thing that drives campaign managers to guzzle Pepto-Bismol.

Houston Unites’ first ad

Not bad:

The story:

HoustonUnites

Supporters of Houston’s equal rights ordinance released their first official radio ad Friday, countering opponents’ claim that the law presents a public safety threat and seeking to reframe the debate before voters consider the issue in November.

The ad, airing on seven local stations during the next two weeks, features Servants of Christ United Methodist Church Rev. Will Reed tackling the message that critics of the law released last week in a one-minute radio spot. In the piece, a young woman said the non-discrimination ordinance allows men to enter women’s restrooms – which she called “filthy” and “unsafe.”

Critics of the law have long alleged that it would allow male sexual predators dressed in drag to enter womens’ restrooms.

“What’s being lost is that it’s already illegal to go into a bathroom to harm or harass someone,” Reed says in the ad. “This law won’t change that. We looked into it, and HERO is actually about providing a needed local tool to protect Houstonians from discrimination based on their race, religion, age, gender, military status, pregnancy, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.”

Houston Unites staff said the media buy cost about $100,000 and will air for two weeks on KHMX-FM, KKBQ/KTHT-FM, KODA-FM, KPRC-AM, KTRH-AM, RODA-FM and RTRH-AM.

That’s as much as the antis’ ad buy. If you listed to terrestrial radio in Houston, you’re probably not going to be able to avoid these ads for the foreseeable future. As for the content itself, it’s good, I like it. I hope it’s effective. There will be a lot more to the campaign than this, but it’s good to get this part of it going. Soundcloud link via Stace.

The anti-HERO horde

There’s a lot of them out there, though many of them claim their mostly last-minute filings didn’t really have to do with HERO.

HoustonUnites

Members of the anti-HERO campaign and other prominent conservative activists disputed suggestions of a widely-coordinated effort, saying the candidates ended up on the ballot for a variety of reasons.

“We have been approached by candidates who oppose the bathroom ordinance,” said Jared Woodfill, spokesman for the anti-HERO campaign. “And we have encouraged people to run who oppose the bathroom ordinance, as have other organizations who have the same goal of defeating the ordinance.”

[…]

Of City Council members running for re-election, five oppose the ordinance, which applies to businesses that serve the public, private employers, housing, city employment and city contracting, though not religious institutions. Violators could be fined up to $5,000.

They are joined by at least 11 council hopefuls, many of whom launched their bids before it became clear the ordinance would be on the ballot.

Others, such as pastors Willie Davis and Kendall Baker, as well as former teacher Manny Barrera and Siemens sales executive Carl Jarvis, filed to run on the last day.

Most of the last-minute candidates said they launched their bids for reasons other than the ordinance, listing city finances, infrastructure and incumbents’ records among their motivations.

Candidates and charlatans like Jared Woodfill and Dave Welch who enable them can say what they want about why they chose to run. How they run and what they ultimately talk about is what you need to know. While the story goes to great length to discuss candidates who may or may not have been motivated to run by opposition to HERO and those that encouraged them, I should note that there are a few candidates on the ballot who cited the opposition to HERO by an incumbent as a motivating factor for them – Doug Peterson and John LaRue in At Large #3, and Philippe Nassif in At Large #5. You can listen to their interviews (Philippe’s will be up tomorrow) to hear what else they had to say, which in all three cases definitely did go beyond this issue.

Beyond that, I don’t think the presence of some extra candidates makes that much difference in terms of outcomes. Turnout will be driven by the Mayor’s race and the HERO referendum. Obviously, some candidates are going to tie themselves to the referendum, one way or the other, but given the high undervote rates for At Large candidates, I’m not sure how much difference that will make. It’s certainly possible that this election will be unlike all the others, and it’s certainly possible that some HERO haters will get into a runoff. If you’re an even-years-only voter, I’d expect to be targeted in a way that you’re not used to in these odd years. How it all shakes out, I have no idea. Polling is going to be tricky, since turnout will be anyone’s guess. I don’t think we’ll have much of an idea about how things are going until voting actually starts. Don’t take anything for granted – get involved, and help make a difference.

HERO ballot language set

Here we go.

HoustonUnites

City Council on Wednesday approved the language that will appear on the November ballot for voters to decide the fate of Houston’s equal rights ordinance, one week after the Texas Supreme Court ruled that the original wording was incorrect.

Earlier this month, City Council signed off on a ballot item that would have asked voters whether they wanted to repeal the ordinance. Conservative critics sued the city over the wording, saying it was intended to confuse voters that would naturally vote “no” on any item pertaining to the law – a vote that would have instead affirmed the ordinance.

After the supreme court’s ruling that the city had erred, Mayor Annise Parker’s administration came back with new language that instead asks voters if they favor the law. It’s a technical issue, but one that both campaigns needed clarity on to craft their messaging and start running ads.

City Council on Wednesday went even further into the weeds on the ballot language when at-large councilman C.O. Bradford offered an amendment that would have removed from the ballot language enumerating the groups protected under the law, such as pregnant women and veterans. Bradford eventually withdrew the amendment, and City Council unanimously approved the administration’s version, but not before touching off some debate.

Bradford said that naming the protected classes “simply serves as a verbiage that’s going to be provocative, that’s going to simply arouse passion” on both sides of the issue.

[…]

Parker, who has been vocal about her frustration with the court ruling, said Wednesday’s discussion was “civil.”

“The question was do you try to be generic and say ‘certain characteristics’ or ‘special characteristics’ or do you list out the characteristics that are protected in the interest of transparency,” Parker said. “Clearly City Council finally came down on just listing everything out.”

All due respect, but CM Bradford is just wrong here. It’s the very existence of HERO that has aroused the “passion” of its zealous opponents, and it’s the indignity of having their civil rights put up for a vote that has aroused the “passion” of the people who worked so hard to get HERO passed in the first place. What exactly is the problem with spelling out what HERO does? The Supreme Court, you may recall, explicitly said that was okay. The opposition campaign against HERO is based entirely on lies. If there’s one place where it ought to be unambiguously clear what HERO is and what HERO does, it’s the ballot language. Texas Leftist has more.

First anti-HERO radio ad airs

Here it comes.

HoustonUnites

In the ad, a young woman talks about the perceived threat to public safety the ordinance presents. Critics have long asserted that the broad non-discrimination law, which includes protections for gay and transgender residents, would allow male sexual predators dressed in drag to enter women’s restrooms.

A heated legal battle between opponents seeking to place the law on the ballot and the city ended with a Texas Supreme Court decision in late July ordering City Council to either repeal the law or vote to affirm it and place on the November ballot. After a 12-5 vote, City Council opted for the latter.

The two-week, $100,000 buy will air on several radio stations, including Mix 96.5, Sunny 99.1, KNTH AM 1070 and the conservative KSEV Radio.

In the ad, an unidentified woman says that she would like to give birth to a child in Houston but is concerned about the equal rights law.

“There are already federal and state laws that prohibit discrimination against pregnant women, but this ordinance will allow men to freely go into women’s bathrooms, locker rooms and showers. That is filthy, that is disgusting and that is unsafe,” the ad states.

The Houston Unites campaign, supporters of the ordinance, responded to the ad in a written statement Monday dismissing the message. The campaign has yet to make any media buys, but manager Richard Carlbom has said the group will hit the airwaves and TV in the coming months.

“The ad is vulgar and grossly misleading. Nothing in the equal rights ordinance changes the fact that it is – and always will be – illegal to enter a restroom to harm or harass other people. And the ad leaves out the fact that the law protects tens of thousands of Houstonians from job discrimination based on their race, age, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability,” the statement said.

It’s all of those things and more, but that doesn’t mean the ad won’t be effective. This is exactly what I expected from the HERO haters, and it’s why I was hoping the pro-HERO forces would have something out first. It’s hard to dislodge that kind of fear once it takes hold; facts just don’t get you very far. If any of these radio stations are ones you listen to, by all means feel free to contact them and tell them that you don’t approve of this dishonest and hurtful ad. If the ad really makes you mad, get in touch with Houston Unites and find something you can do to help protect HERO in November. PDiddie has more.

UPDATE: The Press and Lisa Falkenberg add on.

Supreme Court requires HERO ballot language change

Whatever.

HoustonUnites

The Texas Supreme Court has again overruled Mayor Annise Parker’s administration in connection with the legal fight over her signature nondiscrimination ordinance, ruling Wednesday that the mayor and City Council erred in choosing the language that will appear on the November ballot when the ordinance faces possible repeal.

The justices, writing in “yet another mandamus proceeding concerning the City of Houston’s equal rights ordinance,” said the city charter is clear in requiring that voters be asked to vote for or against the ordinance. Parker had instead argued it was proper to vote for or against repealing the measure, and the council approved language with that approach Aug. 5.

“Though the ordinance is controversial, the law governing the City Council’s duties is clear. Our decision rests not on our views on the ordinance — a political issue the citizens of Houston must decide — but on the clear dictates of the City Charter,” the justices wrote. “The City Council must comply with its own laws regarding the handling of a referendum petition and any resulting election.”

[…]

The ruling rejected an argument from the ordinance’s foes that the ballot should not contain the words “Houston Equal Rights Ordinance,” which they said was politically charged.

Yeah, because nothing about this is politically charged. I don’t really get the fuss over this – voting to “keep” or “repeal” seems like two sides of the same coin to me, and if the petition is to repeal, then it’s logical that the vote should be to repeal – but if that’s the way it is then that’s the way it is. In the end, I doubt it makes that much difference, unless the number of easily confused people in this town is higher than I think it is.

By the way, on the matter of ballot language, I like the way the Press put it:

Frankly, we found Taylor’s language more confusing than the ballot wording, but the thing that really stuck out was Taylor’s other complaint — rejected by the court — that the language shouldn’t include the words “Houston Equal Rights Ordinance.”

“It is simply a gratuitous, albeit intentional, insertion designed to give proponents an edge at the polls,” Taylor wrote, adding that the ordinance’s supporters wouldn’t want “Child Predator Protection Act” appearing on the ballot.

The difference, of course, is that only one of those is accurate nomenclature.

Indeed. Never forget how much lying the leaders of the repeal movement have done. Mayor Parker’s statement is here, and the Trib, PDiddie, and Texas Leftist have more.

On a related matter, there’s still the Dave Wilson Potty Package Check Petitions, which one court ruled needed to be counted; the city has appealed that ruling to the First Court of Appeals. That was still being litigated as of yesterday, and I happen to have a copy of the city’s response to Wilson’s motion to have their appeal dismissed. To sum it up, the city is arguing that Wilson has cited no authority for his dismissal argument, and the trial court erred by granting Wilson temporary emergency relief without requiring him to prove a right to that extraordinary relief. As it happens, later in the day yesterday the appeals court denied Wilson’s motion to dismiss the city’s appeal, and gave the city ten days to “file a written response to this notice, providing a detailed explanation, citing relevant portions of the record, statutes, rules, and case law to show that this Court has jurisdiction over the appeal”. So we’ll still be arguing this at the end of the month, and that’s going to make it a very close call as to whether Wilson’s issue could get on the ballot, if the petitions were certified in the first place. Stay tuned.

The contours of the HERO fight

We’ll see how this goes.

HoustonUnites

When City Council sent Houston’s embattled equal rights ordinance to the November ballot two weeks ago, the vote raised the curtain on dueling campaigns that had been bracing in the wings for a political showdown more than a year in the making.

Council’s 12-5 vote to affirm the ordinance and place it on the ballot, part of a Texas Supreme Court order, followed months of heated back-and-forth in City Hall and various Harris County courtrooms. By the next week, campaign managers had been selected, ads were drafted and pollsters were working to take the pulse of voters.

Supporters quickly appealed to Houston-native and superstar Beyoncé on Twitter for a plug. Opponents, meanwhile, touted presidential candidate Rand Paul’s remarks during the national GOP debates chiding Mayor Annise Parker, though not by name, for a political fumble during the court case surrounding the law. Both camps warned that the eyes of the nation are on Houston.

Political scientists, however, said that is a tad dramatic; unless the law is repealed, the fight over Houston’s non-discrimination law will amount to a largely local affair bolstered by some national money.

Opponents will push a public safety campaign driven by the perceived threat that male sexual predators dressed in drag will use the law as cover to enter women’s restrooms. Supporters, meanwhile, will seek to debunk that and warn that repealing the law would irreparably harm the city’s image.

Both groups said they will need to spend at least $2 million to pepper voters with targeted direct mail and a few choice ads.

“HERO will be competing head to head with the mayoral election for oxygen and energy,” said Rice University political scientist Mark Jones. “There’s only so much space in an election like this, and a lot of that space is going to be occupied by HERO because it’s a charged issue. It’s going to make it even more difficult for down-ballot races to emerge and obtain the attention of voters.”

[…]

At dueling launch events last week, both sides offered a glimpse of the campaigns to come.

On Wednesday, equal rights ordinance supporters unveiled the “Houston Unites” campaign.

Leslie Jackson, the minister of education at Cathedral of Hope church in Midtown, said opponents “confuse religious freedom with the freedom to discriminate.”

“Religious faith does not undermine the value of equality for all under the law,” Jackson said. “Religious faith demands it. As a Christian minister, I must oppose misguided efforts to repeal the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance.”

The task for supporters, Campaign Manager Richard Carlbom said, is twofold: explaining the ramifications if the ordinance is repealed and countering opponents’ contention that male sexual predators will use the ordinance to enter women’s restrooms.

“Houston and Houstonians don’t believe in discrimination, and so, HERO simply says everybody should be free from discrimination and that’s why folks should support it,” Carlbom said.

The challenge for supporters is to fend off the public safety allegations without losing their own message, University of Houston political scientist Brandon Rottinghaus said. The business angle – that events such as the Super Bowl and Final Four could go elsewhere in the event of repeal – likely will factor into supporters’ argument, he said.

The onus, he said, largely falls on opponents of the ordinance to turn the tide as LGBT issues continue to pick up public support. As the ordinance was embroiled in litigation, a slew of states and then the U.S. Supreme Court legalized gay marriage.

“In part, because it’s hard to get people to undo something, opponents have a harder job,” Rottinghaus said. “Once the inertia is developed in a certain direction, it’s hard to get people to do something different.”

Jared Woodfill, former Harris County GOP chairman and a plaintiff in the lawsuit against the ordinance, said opponents would target female voters and men concerned about the safety of their wives and daughters. The pitch to voters, Woodfill said, is simple: “No men in women’s restrooms.”

Yeah, that’s exactly how I thought the opposition would go. The good news, I suppose, is that I really don’t think the leaders of the opposition are capable of keeping their frothing homophobia under wraps, and I think that will hurt them. I agree with Campos that the more they let Steven Hotze talk, the better it will be for HERO supporters. But it’s increasingly clear to me that the bathroom argument has taken hold, and has been internalized by a lot of people. I don’t think facts are going to help counter that. To the extent that persuasion is part of the pro-HERO campaign, I think it has to be about making people feel that supporting HERO is the right thing – the Houston thing – to do. I’m hopeful, but there’s an awful lot that can go wrong, and a lot at stake. BOR has more.

Houston Unites

The pro-HERO campaign has been launched.

Supporters of Houston’s nondiscrimination ordinance launched a formal campaign Wednesday urging voters to defend the measure this November.

ACLU of Texas Executive Director Terri Burke urged Houstonians to “send a message that this is a city that doesn’t discriminate.” Businessman Bobby Singh, invoking the threat of losing sporting events and conventions if the law is repealed, added, “Let’s send a strong message to people across the country and across the world that Houston is open for business.”

[…]

Foes have seized on the protections the ordinance extends to transgender residents, specifically the perceived threat of transgender women — people who were born male but identify as female — using women’s restrooms and locker rooms. They allege “transvestite men” may enter women’s facilities and commit sexual assaults.

Opponents also accuse Mayor Annise Parker, the first openly gay mayor of a major American city, of seeking to “criminalize faith” by forcing “individuals, families, churches, schools and businesses to accept, affirm and celebrate the LGBT agenda.”

Supporters on Wednesday indicated they will address both sets of allegations head-on.

Sonia Corrales, chief program officer at the Houston Area Women’s Center, said the majority of women and more than 90 percent of children are assaulted by someone known to them, and that similar nondiscrimination laws have been passed in 17 states and 200 cities without accompanying public safety concerns.

“It is a disservice to the public to continue to perpetuate myths about how and why sexual assault happens,” she said. “Nothing in HERO changes the fact that it is illegal to enter a restroom to harm or harass people or invade their privacy.”

Leslie Jackson, a minister at Cathedral of Hope, also decried the “voices of division” who “confuse religious freedom with the freedom to discriminate.”

“Religious faith does not undermine the value of equality for all under the law,” he said. “Religious faith demands it.”

Here’s their website, and here’s their Facebook page. I’ve said my piece about how I’d go about this, so I look forward to seeing how this goes. In the meantime, this is a team effort, so visit both pages and see what you can do to help. No bystanders allowed.

Addressing the bathroom question is certainly going to be important, because bathroom hysteria is going to be a central part of the repeal campaign. Sadly, I don’t know how useful facts will be, which is why I took a more indirect approach. Still, it’s important to emphasize how dishonest the claims being made about bathrooms by repeal proponents are. I’ve quoted Daniel Davies before, and this is as good a time as ever to bring his sage words back up: Good ideas do not need lots of lies told about them in order to gain public acceptance.

And look, regardless of the efficacy of any particular campaign tactic, I can’t overstate how much the repeal effort is based on vicious lies against people who live, work, go to school, and pay taxes here in Houston. Our neighbors, to put it another way. Most of the people who are leading the repeal effort call themselves devout Christians. I’m not a devout Christian – I don’t go to church, I don’t feel faith the way many people do – but I did grow up in a strongly Catholic family, and however un-devout I am now the teachings I learned as a child are still very much a part of who I am. If there’s one thing I know from those teachings I got as a child, it’s that there’s nothing remotely Christ-like about telling vicious, hateful lies about one’s neighbor. I don’t know what motivates someone who calls himself or herself a devout Christian to do such a thing. I was taught to love my neighbor. I have no idea how anyone could think this kind of behavior is loving. I’m glad that religious leaders will be part of the pro-HERO campaign. It’s important to convey the message that being religious is entirely compatible with supporting equality for all. I just hope that message can get out there as well.

And now we have a lawsuit over HERO repeal ballot language

Oh, for crying out loud.

RedEquality

Last month the Texas Supreme Court suspended the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, more commonly known as HERO, and ordered City Council to either repeal the non-discrimination measure or put it up for a public vote.

On Wednesday council voted 12-5 for the latter, and in November Houston voters will be asked this question at the polls:

“Shall the City of Houston repeal the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, Ord. No. 2014-530 which prohibits discrimination in city employment and city services, city contracts, public accommodations, private employment, and housing based on an individual’s sex, race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, familial status, marital status, military status, religion, disability, sexual orientation, genetic information gender identity or pregnancy?”

That question, according to the coalition of pastors and conservative activists that have been fighting HERO tooth-and-nail since it went before council last spring (even though religious groups are exempt from having to follow the law), is deliberately confusing and not the same as a public vote on HERO. On Friday, Andy Taylor, one of the attorneys who first sued the city over HERO alongside Steve “Men Who Lose Their Testicles Can’t Read Maps” Hotze (who later dropped out of the suit), filed yet another legal challenge against the city in hopes of changing the wording of the ballot measure.

In a motion filed with the state supreme court Friday, Taylor points to the city charter language related to ballot referendums: “…such ordinance or resolution shall not take effect unless a majority of the qualified voters voting thereon at such election shall vote in favor thereof.”

That’s the legal basis for Taylor’s petition to change the ballot language – that voters should vote “yes” or “no” on HERO, not “yes” or “no” on whether to keep it.

[…]

Ultimately, it appears the anti-HERO coalition fears the ballot language could harm their chances of success at the polls. “This is a legal recipe for an electoral disaster,” Taylor writes. “Voters will be confused, because someone who is against the proposition cannot vote against, and vice-versa.”

It’s unclear why Taylor and his coalition still feel they haven’t won the HERO-ballot battle and keep heading to the courts. The public now has the opportunity to cast a vote on other people’s rights, which is what Taylor and other opponents have wanted all along. Is the current ballot language (do you or do you not think HERO should stand?) really so confusing as to spoil the anti-LGBT contingent’s chances at the polls?

Mayor Parker’s statement is here. I’m convinced that the only language that would be acceptable to Taylor and his band of idiots is “Do you or do you not want to protect your children from a bunch of filthy perverts?” But hey, maybe they’ll get the Supreme Court to save their sorry asses again.

In the meantime, while we wait for that foolishness to be adjudicated, there’s this:

Boosters of big sporting events in Houston are nervous about the fight over the equal rights ordinance.

Opponents of the ordinance have succeeded in putting the issue on the November ballot. Now, some HERO supporters are calling upon the NFL to move the 2017 Super Bowl out of Houston if the ordinance is repealed. The online petition was launched by a blogger and it has dozens of signatures.

“Well, I think if Houston is ever perceived as an intolerant, bigoted place, it will greatly diminish our opportunities to bring sporting events to town,” admitted Sports Authority Chairman J. Kent Friedman.

Houston’s Super Bowl Committee had no comment.

The NFL reportedly considered moving a Super Bowl out of Arizona over legislation that would’ve offered legal protections to businesses that discriminated against gays. That never happened, because the governor vetoed the bill.

HERO opponents say it’ll never happen here either.

“That’s simply a red herring. That’s simply what they tried to do in Indiana and Arkansas and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” said ordinance opponent Jared Woodfill. “It basically shows that they are going to do anything and everything they can to skew the issue.”

“I think it’s a real threat,” said KHOU 11 Political Analyst Bob Stein. “Now, how it plays with the voters is very interesting. It could conceivably become one in which voters have a backlash against it, see it as a — how can I say this? — a threat.”

Via PDiddie, the blogger in question. The petition is here, and it surely can’t hurt to sign it. How likely it is that the NFL might actually move a Super Bowl that would be 14 months out at the time of the vote if it goes badly I couldn’t say, but it would certainly make it a lot harder, if not downright impossible, for Houston to win bids on other big events, and I would predict with absolute certainty that some events that are currently on the calendar would be canceled, just as they were in Indiana after they passed that ill-advised “religious freedom” law. There’s a good reason why the Greater Houston Partnership supports HERO – this is the norm in the business world, and it’s a base condition for companies that want to recruit top talent. Anyone who thinks repealing HERO would not have negative repercussions is not living in the real world. You can like HERO or not, you can like the way Mayor Parker got it passed or not, and you can be like Dave Wilson and obsess all you want about the genitalia of every person who enters a women’s bathroom if you want, but the prevailing reaction to the loss of HERO will not be good for Houston. Texas Leftist has more.

HERO affirmed by Council

It’s official – HERO will be on the ballot this fall.

RedEquality

City Council voted to affirm Houston’s equal rights ordinance Wednesday, a move that will send the law to voters in November per a Texas Supreme Court ruling.

City Council voted 12-5 to leave the law in place, with Councilmen Dave Martin, Oliver Pennington, Michael Kubosh, Jack Christie and Councilwoman Brenda Stardig voting to repeal the ordinance. A Texas Supreme Court ruling issued last month ordered the city to either repeal the ordinance or put it on the November ballot.

“All we’re saying by this is that everyone should have an equal opportunity to equal rights,” Councilwoman Ellen Cohen said.

Here’s the longer version of the story, and a story from Tuesday previewing things. HOUEquality reported the vote as 13-4; I’m not sure where the discrepancy lies. CM Dwight Boykins, who voted against HERO last year, voted to keep the law in place, though not because of a change of heart; he sent out a press release saying his constituents wanted to have a change to “vote up or down on HERO”. Whatever. He did include the full text of the ordinance, which as it happens will be on the referendum:

“Shall the City of Houston repeal the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, Ord. No. 2014-530, which prohibits discrimination in city employment and city services, city contracts, public accommodations, private employment, and housing based on an individual’s sex, race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, familial status, marital status, military status, religion, disability, sexual orientation, genetic information, gender identity, or pregnancy?”

Not sure why anyone would want to vote against that, but hey, I’m not Jared Woodfill. Or Bill King, for that matter.

“Voters are put to a false dilemma by the politicians,” King said in a statement Wednesday. “If you vote for repeal, you are in favor of discrimination. If you vote against repeal, you are in favor of men using women’s restrooms. Like most Houstonians, I favor neither. I cannot in good conscience advocate either for or against the proposition.”

King, who bills himself as a moderate fiscal conservative, is seeking the support of Houston’s conservative west side — a group of voters City Councilman Stephen Costello and 2013 mayoral runner-up Ben Hall also are courting.

Hall is a staunch opponent of the nondiscrimination law, while Costello and the candidates to his left support it.

That puts King in a difficult position, Texas Southern University political science professor Jay Aiyer said.

“He needs to make a runoff on the strength of conservative voters, but he recognizes that winning a runoff opposing HERO might be difficult,” Aiyer said, noting that Houston voters are predominantly Democratic. The top two vote-earners in November will advance to a December runoff.

By continuing to straddle the fence, Aiyer said, King may alienate both sides.

King refuses to take a position on HERO. That Chron story calls it “straddling”; I call it “avoiding”, and I think it’s gutless. If Bill King would like to articulate a sober, non-bigoted rationale for opposing HERO, I say go for it. I’m sure the Greater Houston Partnership and all the Fortune 500 companies in town that have their own non-discrimination policies and have supported HERO as being good for their businesses would love to hear it as well. I’d suggest that he might want to do a little research first, lest he ignorantly parrot one of the scurrilous lies being propagated by those bigoted opponents he doesn’t want to be associated with. Maybe if he does that, he can then figure out what he should do, and let the rest of us know.

Anyway. As we know, a lot of the opposition will be coming from a group of pastors, plus scoundrels like Woodfill. I’m hearing that he and his pals are trying to scare up a “straight slate” for various Council positions, because nothing says modern and forward-moving like harking back to 1985. I’ve said my piece about how I think the campaign ought to go; I’m glad to see that the idea of using beloved celebrities to advocate for HERO, which occurred to more than just me, is catching on. If you want to get involved locally, check out and give a like to Houston Unites. All hands on deck, y’all. We can’t have anyone sit this one out.

Pastors file a lawsuit over HERO

I have three things to say about this.

PetitionsInvalid

Organizers of the anti-Houston Equal Rights Ordinance petition have filed suit against Mayor Annise Parker, saying she and unnamed “conspirators” unconstitutionally rejected valid petition signatures and “smothered the Citizen Referendum Petition in the crib.” (Gotta love a lawsuit whose opening salvo includes infanticide imagery!).

Filed by four pastors, the suit comes on the heels of a Texas Supreme Court finding that Houston City Council should have put the HERO ordinance to referendum. The court suspended the ordinance and ordered Council to either repeal it or put it on the November ballot.

The pastors were against the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance because, as their attorney Andy Taylor explains in a weird footnote, “that label is deceptive and false. Far from creating equality, ‘HERO’ creates special rights, not equal rights, for biological males to enter the public restrooms reserved for adult women, adolescent girls, and infants.”

The pastors are seeking compensation for civil rights violations, as well as court costs.

The suit alleges that “as a result of the hard work of all concerned, a successful referendum petition drive produced over 54,000 signatures on the Citizen Referendum Petition,” but that Parker and then-City Attorney David Feldman “wrongfully inserted themselves into the process…dared the public to challenge their decision in court if they did not agree with their rejection of the [petition], and arrogantly and illegally refused to obey their mandatory duties under the Houston City Charter.”

Moreover, the pastors say that Parker “[ran] roughshod over her veteran colleague City Secretary Anna Russell” and “trampled the voting rights of over a million voters in the fourth largest city in the United States of America in an unprecedented and colossal violation of every Houstonian’s civil rights.”

Here’s the Chron story on this, and here’s what I have to say:

1. These pastors are suing for court costs incurred in the lawsuit that they filed and lost to get the repeal referendum on the ballot. Usually, the losing side in a lawsuit bears the burden of court costs, including for the winning side. That Supreme Court ruling that will force HERO onto the ballot this fall was not a reversal of the district court ruling that declared the petition effort had fallen short, it was a ruling on a writ of mandamus that sought to bypass the district court entirely. I’m honestly not sure what the status of that case is now – there is an ongoing appeal as of last report – and I’m not a lawyer, but I don’t see why the losers in that lawsuit deserve any compensation for it.

2. That claim of 54,000 petition signatures is laughably inaccurate. They did claim to have “collected” that many petitions at the time, but after doing their own “verification” process, that number had dropped to 31,000. That was the total that was the starting point for all subsequent disputes. For them to make that “54,000 signatures” claim when they themselves threw out 23,000 of them before they even signed over their boxes should give you some idea of how ridiculous they are.

3. Or to put it another way, they continue to lie like cheap rugs about the whole thing, not just about their signature total but about what the law is and who we should be afraid of. They have lied, continuously and shamelessly, throughout this process – and largely gotten away with it in the reporting, too – to the point where one ought to be wondering “Isn’t lying, like, a sin?” The amount of lying, by professional religious people and those who abet them, remains the most amazing thing about this to me. It’s no wonder to me that the petitions that they did turn in were found to be so riddled with forgeries and other failures to comply with the law.

One would think based on all that that this latest effort would get laughed out of court, but at this point my faith is a little strained. Here’s Mayor Parker’s statement about this lawsuit. Council is set to have a vote affirming HERO today, which will put it on the ballot as expected. I’ll have more on that tomorrow.

Defending HERO

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

RedEquality

“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.

Hall for all the haters again

Enjoy the attention while it lasts, dude.

RedEquality

Already a staunch opponent of the nondiscrimination law, Hall has become more vocal in the wake of last week’s Texas Supreme Court ruling that City Council must repeal the ordinance, known as HERO, or place it on November’s ballot.

From Twitter to television, Hall is using his criticism of HERO to set himself apart from the largely progressive mayoral field.

“There’s only one candidate in this race who has consistently for the last two years opposed HERO and supported the right of voters to vote,” Hall said in a Fox 26 segment that aired Tuesday. “When the pastors wanted to fight in the court system, none of the other candidates was present. I was.”

Most of Hall’s competitors have remained out of the HERO limelight, issuing a single press release about the Supreme Court’s decision or staying silent.

Five of them – former Congressman Chris Bell, City Councilman Stephen Costello, former Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia, state Rep. Sylvester Turner and businessman Marty McVey – have said they support the ordinance, while former Kemah mayor Bill King has tried to straddle the fence.

“I do not see the empirical need for a discrimination ordinance,” King said last Saturday, after previously saying he would not have put the item on City Council’s agenda.

Like Costello, King is seeking the support of Houston’s conservative west side.

Through a spokesman, King declined to comment Thursday on whether he would vote to repeal HERO.

“He’s between a rock and a hard place,” said University of Houston political scientist Richard Murray. “The right conservative base doesn’t like HERO, but the people who write big checks are more moderate on this issue.”

[…]

Even with the resurgent HERO issue, Murray said it is unlikely that Hall, who earned little conservative support in 2013, will have the votes needed in November to make the expected runoff.

As it was two years ago, Hall’s campaign largely is self-funded; he received contributions from just 36 individual donors in the first half of the year, taking in some $94,000, according to his finance report. Hall lent himself an additional $850,000.

“I don’t think you can ride that single issue into the runoff,” Murray said. “I don’t think it has enough resonance with voters that are so much more concerned about infrastructure and the deterioration of the streets.”

See here for the background. Let’s also not forget, Hall’s 2013 campaign was a disaster – no issues, no coherence, no organization. I don’t see any reason why this year would be different, even if this time he actually has a reason for running. It’s just that it’s a bad reason, and it won’t get him very far. I do agree it could cause problems for other candidates, primarily Turner and King, but that’s for them to sort out. Hall gets to have his name in the paper more often, and he gets some love from the bottom feeders. Beyond that, not much is different.

Harris County will have a bond issue on the ballot

More things to vote on this November.

HarrisCounty

Commissioners Court voted unanimously Tuesday to put four bond measures totaling $848 million on the November ballot to address tremendous population growth in Harris County during the past two decades.

“When you consider that Harris County has more people than 24 states, it really isn’t that much,” County Judge Ed Emmett said.

“This is in anticipation of further growth.”

Approximately 1 million more people now live in the county than in 2000; and 75 percent of those new residents live in the unincorporated portions of the county where government-funded roads and infrastructure projects have had to hustle to catch up with vast commercial and residential development.

The referendum will create four separate ballot items: a $700 million bond for roads and bridges, a $60 million bond for parks, $24 million to update the overcrowded animal control facility and $64 million for flood control improvements.

[…]

The commissioners agreed to review the actual ballot language at their next meeting Aug. 11.

But Emmett said the commissioners should get going immediately in their efforts to educate voters about why bonds are on the ballot in the first place: “Once we approve this this morning, then it’s time to start getting people engaged in the process of supporting the bond election. That’s important.”

See here for the background. In that post, I said that Judge Emmett and Commissioners Court had better make sure they ran a vigorous campaign for their bonds if they wanted them to pass, because recent history of ballot propositions in Harris County strongly suggests that in the absence of a campaign, even non-controversial issues don’t do as well as you might think. This year, there will be the HERO repeal vote and possibly also the Dave Wilson you-must-show-me-yours vote, either of which may have the effect of bringing out more of the type of voter who is inclined to vote No on anything related to spending because spending is bad and raises their taxes. (Yes, I know, this bond issue does not come with a tax increase. Try convincing the kind of voter I’m talking about of that.) What could be potentially more troubling for Commissioners Court is that there’s likely to be a significant number of voters outside the city limits who are well aware of the HERO issue and think they’ll get to vote on it, too. I suspect a lot of those voters will be in the no-spending-ever bucket as well. Maybe I’m overstating the extent of the problem, and for sure I believe that a sizable number of the people who will be spurred to turn out for this will do so to support HERO, but it’s a factor that didn’t exist at the time this bond issue was first being discussed. They need to plan for it.

There’s another factor to consider here, which is that as things stand now, there’s not much in this bond issue that does anything for city residents. The vast majority of it goes to the unincorporated areas. Granted, that’s where most of the growth is, but it’s still nice to get something beyond a sense of civic duty in return for one’s vote. I may be misjudging things – it’s early days, details may still be getting worked out, I’m sure I’ll have a chance to interview Judge Emmett about this – but that’s a consideration. Municipal voters are usually the ones who do the heavy lifting when it comes to passing bond issues. Let’s hope we’re not being taken for granted.

If HERO then no other ballot items

Makes sense.

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

With her signature nondiscrimination law likely to appear on the November ballot, Mayor Annise Parker left in doubt Wednesday whether she will ask City Council to also place before voters long-discussed changes to term limits and the city’s revenue cap.

Parker said she has no interest in putting the latter two items to amend the city charter to a vote only to see them fail because they lacked robust campaigns behind them.

“It was my full expectation that I’d be spending my remaining campaign funds and my personal time advocating for these two good-government items, but because of the presence of HERO (the Houston equal rights ordinance) on the ballot, I’m going to be having to split my energy over there,” she said. “There is no – at this point – group willing to step up and advocate for the other two. I’m not going to put some things out there just to fail. It may be more timely to bring the charter amendments to next November’s electorate, and I can leave that decision to the next mayor.”

Term-limited Parker, the first openly gay mayor of a major American city, said she will discuss with council members and make a final decision in the coming days on what items to place on the agenda for the group’s Wednesday meeting.

[…]

Political observers say the divisive ordinance’s appearance on the ballot may skew the electorate by rallying conservatives to show up for what are typically extremely low-turnout municipal elections, and could undercut discussion of other issues in the mayoral and council races, such as the city budget and crumbling streets.

University of Houston political science professor Brandon Rottinghaus said Parker’s wariness of moving forward with complicated governance issues when such a clear-cut social issue will be on the ballot is well founded.

“You’ll have pro and con on HERO, and that’s going to create a politics and a set of voters that may not reflect the kind of voters that would otherwise come out for an issue of importance to city finances,” he said. “I think she’s wise in that way to push things off to make sure those issues get the kind of hearing they deserve instead of the kind of hearing they’d otherwise get in the politics of the moment.”

I don’t believe the turnout effect of having HERO repeal on the ballot is going to be entirely one-directional, but I do agree that it’s going to consume a lot of the oxygen in the campaign. It’s also going to require a lot of financial resources. Mayor Parker has $233K cash on hand as of the July finance report, which might have been enough to push the other changes she had in mind but likely isn’t enough to defend HERO and certainly isn’t enough to do both. Clearly, the first priority is defending the gains that we’ve made. It’s unfortunate that the other items will have to be left for the next Mayor to sort out – I strongly suspect the next City Council will wish they didn’t have to deal with the extra cuts that the revenue cap will impose on them – but it is where we are.

Judge rules Wilson petitions must be counted

Thanks, Supreme Court. Thanks a hell of a lot.

Dave Wilson

Dave Wilson

City of Houston officials must count the signatures on a petition filed by anti-gay activist Dave Wilson, who is seeking a vote to amend the city charter and bar men “who perceive or express themselves as women” from entering women’s restrooms, a judge ruled Tuesday.

State District Judge Brent Gamble ruled Tuesday that City Secretary Anna Russell has a “nondiscretionary ministerial duty” to count and certify the signatures Wilson submitted in early July, and to present the count to City Council by Aug. 8.

City attorneys, however, intended to file an immediate appeal late Tuesday, said Mayor Annise Parker’s spokeswoman, Janice Evans. She did not comment further.

[…]

Wilson submitted a similar petition in April, but apparently misunderstood state law and was 300 signatures shy of the 20,000 names needed for a charter amendment. He said he started over and said he submitted more than 22,100 valid signatures on July 9.

For months now, Parker’s legal team has contended that Wilson’s proposed charter revision too closely resembles a repeal petition pertaining to the city’s equal rights ordinance that had been tied up in court. His effort is too late and should not be considered, they have said, because those seeking to repeal an ordinance must submit their petition within 30 days of the law going into effect; City Council passed the ordinance in May 2014.

Regardless of the future of Wilson’s petition, the equal rights ordinance itself likely will be put to a vote in November, thanks to a Texas Supreme Court ruling last week.

See here and here for the background. I suppose the good news, if you want to call it that, is that thanks to that awful Supreme Court ruling, we’re going to have a HERO repeal vote anyway, so what difference does this make at this point? Because let’s be clear about two things: One, Wilson’s efforts have totally been about trying to damage HERO. Anyone who believes otherwise also believes in the tooth fairy. And two, if we take that Supreme Court ruling on its face, Wilson could have simply signed the names of the first 22,000 or so registered Houston voters himself on his petitions. If all Anna Russell is supposed to do is check that yep, those are the names and addresses of registered Houston voters, then why not cheat a little to make sure you make it across the goal line? Who’s ever going to know?

OK, I’m being a little bitter here, but just a little. We’ll see what if anything comes of the city’s emergency appeal, but consider this: if we take to heart the core of the Obergfell and Windsor decisions – and Lawrence v. Texas before them – a law that is based on animus against a group of people cannot be constitutional. I’m not a lawyer, but it seems clear to me that Wilson’s hateful proposal could not survive judicial scrutiny if it were approved. But putting all that aside, thins is just wrong. It’s wrong to use the weight of a majority to push around a minority, and it’s wrong to put people’s humanity to a vote. Funny how a heathen like me understands that better than a “Christian” like Dave Wilson.

TOP/SEIU Mayoral forum report

From David Ortez:

After the dust settled, the forum commenced with the hosts explaining the four pillars of their platform. It boiled down to: 1) Good Jobs; 2) Neighborhoods of Opportunity; 3) Infrastructure; and 4) Immigrant Rights. At the end of the forum, all the candidates would be asked to endorse this platform by signing a large four by five foot petition. Every candidate expect Bill King would end up signing and supporting the platform.

The first question was regarding the first 100 days as mayor. Garcia and Turner employed their well-rehearsed and appropriate non responsive answers explaining that each candidate would meet with TOP and SEIU Texas to set an agenda. Garcia stated that he would welcome and support immigrants. Turner also welcomes immigrants to our city but added that he would want to help out areas that been ignored. King, on the other hand, noted that he would address the redistribution of wealth in neighborhoods, citing the current Houston decision to spend millions on Post Oak to create a dedicated bus lane in the Galleria area. McVey stated that he would implement an Identification Card program for undocumented residents and supports a $15 minimum wage in the city. It was not clear if this minimum wage would only apply to municipal employees or all employees within the city.

The next sets of questions were addressed to each candidate individually. Garcia was hit hard for not standing up against the controversial 287(g) program as Harris County Sheriff. 287(g) allows trained local law enforcement officials to conduct immigration enforcement within their jurisdictions. In Harris County, this usually takes place when a suspect is booked after being arrested regardless of culpability. Some defendants then have an immigration hold placed, which results in deportation. Garcia began his response by reminding folks, “First and foremost, I worked as sheriff to keep people safe. I worked to get criminals off the streets.” Then, he attempted to spin the question by claiming that it only applies to criminals in jail. This is a false statement. He concluded his response by claiming to have fought against the program. How? I am not really sure.

King was asked which program he would cut first as mayor. He did not hesitate to throw the Houston Crime Lab under the bus and vowed to eliminate programs that provided duplicate services. McVey was asked to share his strategy for success as an unknown candidate; he began by explaining that he was unknown because he was not a career politician, then he cited his resume as someone that comes from the private sector that knows how to create jobs. Turner had the softer question of the group when he was asked to explain how he would improve the quality of jobs for employees. Turner took the opportunity to support a $15 minimum wage. He would also like to provide Houstonians with skills to obtain new trade jobs. He noted that not everyone is destined for college.

There’s more, including a few pull quotes from candidates that aren’t in the main body of the post, so go check it out. I couldn’t find any mainstream news coverage of this event, which focused on some issues that don’t get as much attention as others. Here’s the TOP/SEIU platform, called “Houston 4 All”, from their press release:

  • Good Jobs: A strong mayor can incentivize good jobs with living wages and benefits that enable working parents to sustain a family.
  • Neighborhoods of Opportunity: A strong mayor can lead a city-wide effort to help all of our neighborhoods not just survive, but thrive. That means focusing on areas with greatest need first, supporting minority homeownership, cleaning abandoned properties and lots, and prioritizing development projects in the most neglected neighborhoods.
  • Immigrant Rights: A strong mayor can create a municipal ID program to increase public safety and symbolically welcome, engage and include vulnerable populations who face barriers in obtaining IDs accepted by Houston authorities like the police, independent school districts and city departments.
  • Sound Infrastructure: A strong mayor can invest infrastructure dollars for drainage, street, and sidewalk improvements in areas where they are needed most.

I’m not exactly sure how some of these would translate to specific policy proposals, but David’s report gives some clues from the questions that were asked. I’ve been wondering when a higher minimum wage would come up in the conversation. How far that might get with Council I couldn’t say, but I’m glad to see it get discussed.

Hall for all the haters

He is who we thought he was.

Dave Wilson

Dave Wilson

Houston mayoral candidate Ben Hall said Thursday he signed a petition seeking to define gender identity and prevent men “who perceive or express themselves as women” from entering women’s restrooms because he wants to protect the right to vote.

Hall’s press conference at his Montrose law firm comes three days after an LGBT blog reported that Hall signed the request, which it framed as “anti-gay.”

“I’m trying to correct the record about people who are mischaracterizing why we signed the petition. I want to make sure we change that narrative,” said Hall, who was accompanied by his wife. “We signed this petition because everybody has the right to vote, whether you like the outcome or not.”

Hall added that he “will protect all our citizens from illegal discrimination, gay or straight.”

Of this year’s crowded slate of mayoral contenders, Hall, the 2013 mayoral runner-up, is the most vocal opponent of the city’s equal rights ordinance, which bans discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, as well as sex, race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, religion, disability, pregnancy, genetic information, and family, marital or military status.

A picture of Hall’s signature was posted to the HOUEquality Facebook page a few days ago; Hair Balls confirmed it was in fact Hall’s autograph. I think everyone would agree that the one sure beneficiary of Friday’s Supreme Court ruling is Hall, who is the one Mayoral candidate with any visibility who is full-on for repeal. He’s got Wilson and the Hotzes in his camp, and where else are these voters going to go? Bill King isn’t a HERO supporter, but I don’t see him lining up with the repeal forces, not if he wants business support. Oliver Pennington voted against HERO on Council, but he’s not in the race any more. Who else is there? As David Ortez reported, at least one fringe candidate is rabidly pro-repeal as well, but there’s a reason why fringe candidates are on the fringe. Hall is the choice of those who think that HERO was crammed down their throats, and who want very badly to stick it to Mayor Parker. And yes, that choice of words is quite deliberate.

Supreme Court rules HERO must be repealed or voted on

Ugh.

PetitionsInvalid

The Texas Supreme Court ruled Friday that Houston City Council must repeal the city’s equal rights ordinance or place it on the November ballot.

The ruling comes three months after a state district judge ruled that opponents of Houston’s contentious non-discrimination ordinance passed last year failed to gather enough valid signatures to force a repeal referendum.

“We agree with the Relators that the City Secretary certified their petition and thereby invoked the City Council’s ministerial duty to reconsider and repeal the ordinance or submit it to popular vote,” the Texas Supreme Court wrote in a per curiam opinion. “The legislative power reserved to the people of Houston is not being honored.”

The city’s equal right ordinance bans discrimination based not just on sexual orientation and gender identity but also, as federal laws do, sex, race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, religion, disability, pregnancy and genetic information, as well as family, marital or military status.

Houston City Council has 30 days to repeal the ordinance or place it on the November ballot.

[…]

A “disappointed” Parker said she thought the court had erred in its “eleventh hour ruling” and said her team was consulting with the city’s pro bono outside counsel on “any possible available legal actions.” She said the ordinance resembles measures passed by other major U.S. cities and many local companies.

“No matter the color of your skin, your age, gender, physical limitations, or sexual orientation, every Houstonian deserves the right to be treated equally,” Parker said. “To do otherwise, hurts Houston’s well-known image as a city that is tolerant, accepting, inclusive and embracing of its diversity. Our citizens fully support and understand this and I have never been afraid to take it to the voters. We will win!”

You can read the opinion here. To be clear, this was not an appeal of the trial court verdict that declared the number of petitions collected to be insufficient. It’s a ruling on a writ of mandamus filed last August to force the city to accept the City Secretary’s initial count, which only looked at registrations and didn’t consider whether petition pages were proper or whether any signatures had been forged. I personally think it’s perverse to ignore the findings of widespread forgery and general not following the rules, which to me just rewards bad actors, and if that’s what they were going to do they could have issued this ruling back in April and given the city and the HERO defenders more time to prepare for a campaign. As with the ReBuild Houston ruling, I’m having a hard time seeing this as anything but political in nature. It’s a screw job and there’s not much we can do about it.

As to what happens next, I don’t have any faith in the “possible available legal actions” the Mayor alluded to in her statement, so we’ll see what Council does on Wednesday. It’s theoretically possible that the decision could be made to repeal the ordinance and then try again next year, so as not to disrupt this year’s election and have to run a campaign on little time. That obviously requires electing a “good” Mayor, and it of course gives the haters another shot at collecting repeal petitions, this time with full knowledge of the boneheaded mistakes they made last year. I don’t know that I’d go that route, but it is an option.

Regardless of that decision, this will have an effect on the Mayor’s race, and thus on the rest of them. I’ve been asking about HERO in the At Large races where I’ve done interviews, but in the context of it being a settled issue. I’m going to have to put a note on most of them to indicate I did them before today’s ruling was made, as there’s no convenient fence-straddling position any more. Where one could have said something to the effect of “well, I didn’t support it then, but it’s the law now and I don’t see any reason to repeal it” before, now everyone needs to give a straight up keep-or-repeal answer. Five Mayoral candidates – Sylvester Turner, Steve Costello, Adrian Garcia, Chris Bell, and Marty McVey – are known HERO supporters. One – Ben Hall, of course – is not. One – Bill King – has been a fence-straddler. If the repeal referendum is on the ballot, how will you vote? If the decision is made to pass the question to the next Mayor and Council, what will you do? Everyone needs to ask that of all their candidates. I assure you, in the interviews I have left to do, I will be asking.

In the meantime, you should assume that this will be on the ballot, and you should do whatever you can to ensure it doesn’t get repealed. HOUEquality is your one stop shop for information and ways to help. Lane Lewis in his role as HCDP Chair has sent out emails vowing support for HERO. Find something you can do to help and do it. The Trib, Hair Balls, Think Progress, TPM, and Texas Leftist have more.

Dave Wilson will never go away

What’s that definition of insanity again?

Dave Wilson

Dave Wilson

Opponents of Houston’s equal rights ordinance have once again submitted petitions calling for a voter referendum to put a gender identity issue on the ballot in November, but the mayor says it’s not going to happen.

Anti-gay activist Dave Wilson showed up at Houston City Hall Thursday with boxes of petitions he said bore the signatures of 20,000 voters calling for a referendum on a city charter amendment defining one’s gender as whatever sex was assigned at birth.

“It will prohibit men from going into women’s bathrooms and vice versa in all sex-oriented facilities — like swimming pools, locker rooms — that the city has,” Wilson said.

[…]

Wilson said his proposed charter change would effectively nullify much of the equal rights ordinance. And that’s precisely why Mayor Annise Parker said Wilson’s latest petition drive will come to nothing.

“It’s a non-starter, because it has been determined by a federal court that you cannot change an ordinance with a charter amendment,” Parker said.

The legal precedent the mayor cited comes from a ruling in a case involving Houston’s troubled history with red light cameras. It’s a complicated matter involving the difference between an ordinance and the city charter.

Any petition effort to repeal an ordinance in Houston must be completed within 30 days after the passage of that ordinance. Opponents of Houston’s red light cameras thought they’d worked their way around that restriction by proposing not a repeal of the ordinance, but a charter amendment that accomplished the same goal.

But a federal judge issued a sharply worded opinion against that notion.

It was just three months ago that Wilson failed at this the last time, having not turned in enough signatures to meet the statutory minimum. Not that it mattered, since as Mayor Parker points out, you can’t use the charter process to amend an existing ordinance except within a 30 day period of the ordinance taking effect. Needless to say, that ship has long since sailed. But as always this is really all about Dave Wilson getting attention for himself and painting himself as a victim of oppression, both of which he is highly successful at doing. The rest of it, not so much. And to add to the mountain of evidence that the law means nothing to Dave Wilson, he’s filed a lawsuit against the city to force them to count the signatures anyway, presumably before dumping them all in the trash since they’re irrelevant. I guess all this activity keeps him off the streets, so we should be thankful for that. I just pity the poor judge who will have to deal with this, since Wilson is representing himself. (According to the Chron story, the case is in the 270th District Civil Court.) And I’m sure we’ll be back in another few months with another batch of pointless petitions. Lather, rinse, repeat.