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term limits

Precinct analysis: Age ranges

Let us one more time ask the question: Just how old were the voters in our 2015 election?


Range       All    Pct
======================
18-30    21,998   8.2%
31-40    32,359  12.1%
41-50    39,074  14.6%
51-60    58,610  21.9%
61+     115,755  43.2%

vote-button

The short answer is “not as old as we’ve seen in previous elections“. That’s a high-water mark for the 30-and-under crowd, by a considerable amount, as well as a high score for the 31-to-40 consort. The 61+ group is smaller than it was in the last few elections, though of course that is relative. It’s smaller as a proportion to this electorate, but this electorate was quite large, so the over-60 share is much bigger in absolute terms than before – there were nearly as many over-60s this year as there were total voters in 2011 – even if it’s a smaller piece of the pie.

I can’t easily tell you what the average age of a Houston voter in 2015 was. I’ve heard several people cite a figure of 69 years old, which I believe comes from the KUHF/KHOU poll in October. Based on the ranges I’ve shown above, I’d guess that 69 is a little high to be the average age, but it’s probably not too far off from that. The point I’m trying to make here is that this election wasn’t driven by a frenzied turnout of senior citizens. Turnout was up across the board, and while this electorate was hardly young – less than 35% were under 50 – there was more age diversity than we have seen in the past.

Where you will legitimately find a younger electorate is in the new voters than showed up this year. Here’s that table, with the accompanying one for the set of folks who voted in all elections since 2009 following it:


Range       New    Pct
======================
18-30    17,106  16.8%
31-40    19,522  19.2%
41-50    17,889  17.6%
51-60    20,528  20.2%
61+      26,557  26.1%


Range       Old    Pct
======================
18-30       351   0.6%
31-40     2,009   3.4%
41-50     5,279   8.9%
51-60    12,233  20.5%
61+      39,766  66.7%

A majority of the new voters this year were 50 and under, with 36% being 40 and under. That’s not too shabby. As for the old reliables, here “old” is an appropriate word. If you told me the average age of this group was 69, I’d believe it. I will say, if the revised term limits ordinance stands, it’s going to be more challenging to talk about new and experienced voters in our every-four-years elections, simply because there will be so much turnover in the voting population. Under the new system – again, if it stands – the last three elections would be 2011, 2007, and 2003. Three elections from now would be 2027. Of course, with incumbents limited to two terms, maybe there will be that much more emphasis on the last election, and less on others except for open seats. Who knows? One way or another, we are headed into uncharted waters.

I hope you enjoyed this trip through the data. I may take a look at recent runoff rosters to see if there’s anything there worth writing about. Happy Thanksgiving!

Lawsuit filed over term limits referendum

As if on cue, the following hit my inbox on Wednesday afternoon, from Eric Dick:

calvin-on-term-limits-for-dads

Phillip Paul Bryant is filing a lawsuit to invalidate Proposition 2 because the ballot language misled Houston voters.

Annise Parker and the City of Houston have a history with misleading voters when it comes to ballot language. Indeed in 2015 alone, Texas Supreme Court has found that Annise Parker and the City of Houston have used inappropriate ballot language at least twice.[1][2]

On November 3, 2015, registered voters of the City of Houston were asked to vote on several propositions, including a proposition extending term limits. (“Proposition 2”). The ballot language for Proposition 2 reads as follows:

“(Relating to Term Limits for City Elective Office) Shall the City Charter of the City of Houston be amended to reduce the number of terms of elective offices to no more than two terms in the same office and limit the length for all terms of elective office to four years, beginning in January 2016; and provide for transition?”

The voters of the City of Houston passed Proposition 2 on November 3, 2015.

The language of Proposition 2 was misleading in one of more of the following ways:

  • The ballot language suggested that it would “limit” term length instead of expanding them from two-year terms to four-year terms;
  • The ballot language suggested that the “limit the length for all terms” to be four years instead of allowing elected municipal officials to serve a total of up to eight or ten years;
  • As admitted by Annise D. Parker in an interview with Houston Public Media, voters thought they were limiting the amount of time for municipal elected officials to serve in office.

See here for the background. Phillip Paul Bryant was a candidate for District B in 2011, and was engaged in the opposition to HERO. A copy of the petition is here; as always, I welcome feedback from the lawyers out there. On the one hand, I voted against the term limits change and feel that two-year terms are the better idea. On the other hand, I’m not particularly awed by Eric Dick’s legal prowess. On the other other hand, Lord only knows what the Supreme Court will do; the two footnotes in that press release refer to the decisions on Renew Houston and the wording of the HERO referendum. So who knows? If history is any guide, we won’t know for several years. The Chron and KUHF have more.

Precinct analysis: At Large #3

Only one candidate running for citywide office won outright in November. That candidate was first term CM Michael Kubosh in At Large #3. Here’s how he won:


Dist  Kubosh   LaRue  McElligott  Peterson
==========================================
A      8,782   1,042         835     3,152
B      8,988   1,526       1,251     3,541
C     16,414   2,314       1,409    10,138
D     12,074   1,599       1,367     4,385
E     15,033   1,249       1,217     5,314
F      4,192     973         819     2,274
G     19,632   1,463       1,069     5,433
H      6,149   1,284         925     3,055
I      5,121   1,057         953     2,567
J      3,230     600         492     1,566
K      8,524   1,271         989     4,283
				
A     63.59%   7.54%       6.05%    22.82%
B     58.72%   9.97%       8.17%    23.13%
C     54.22%   7.64%       4.65%    33.49%
D     62.16%   8.23%       7.04%    22.57%
E     65.90%   5.47%       5.33%    23.29%
F     50.76%  11.78%       9.92%    27.54%
G     71.14%   5.30%       3.87%    19.69%
H     53.88%  11.25%       8.10%    26.77%
I     52.80%  10.90%       9.83%    26.47%
J     54.86%  10.19%       8.36%    26.60%
K     56.57%   8.44%       6.56%    28.43%
CM Michael Kubosh

CM Michael Kubosh

There’s not a whole lot to say here. Kubosh won a majority in every Council district, only coming close to not having a majority in District F. Some of this is a perk of high name ID, but said name ID was earned through work on the red light camera referendum and by being visible on Council. There have been a lot more people running for At Large seats in recent elections, challenging incumbents as well as piling up in open seat races. Since 2009, when CM Melissa Noriega ran unopposed, two At Large members have been dislodged, and every At Large incumbent save Steve Costello and Brad Bradford in 2013 have had at least two opponents. Sue Lovell and Jolanda Jones survived runoffs in 2009, while David Robinson and Jack Christie face them this year. In that context, Kubosh’s achievement as one of only two At Large incumbents to clear 60% against multiple opponents in this time frame (Bradford in 2011 is the other) is even more impressive. Give the man his due.

With all this recent interest in At Large races, and with the next election being four long years away (barring any further intervention from the Supreme Court), one wonders what the landscape will look like the next time these seats are up. As noted once before, CM Christie is the only At Large member whose term would be up in 2019, meaning that if he loses then every citywide officeholder as of January 2, 2016, can be on the ballot in 2019. (Like CM Kubosh, CM Robinson is in his first term, so regardless of the outcome in At Large #2, the incumbent in that seat can run for re-election.) With four years between races, one would think that there will be a lot of pent-up demand for Council offices, which may attract another truckload of citywide hopefuls. On the other hand, districts A, B, C, J (if CM Laster wins), and K will all be open then, so perhaps that will siphon off some of that demand. I really have no idea what it will be like, but barring anything strange, it seems reasonable to say that CM Kubosh will be a favorite to win a third term. Check back with me in January of 2019 and we’ll see how good that statement looks at that time.

Will someone sue over the term limits referendum?

Maybe.

calvin-on-term-limits-for-dads

Pre-election polling showed voters slightly favored the change, but not if they were told that it benefits sitting council members.

Rice University political scientist Bob Stein conducted the News 88.7/KHOU 11 News election poll.

“When we informed voters that the adoption of the two four-year (terms) would take place immediately in 2016 and advantage incumbent council members, support swung the other way and it was a deficit of 17 points against,” Stein said.

But that information was not in the ballot language.

In fact, it didn’t even mention that it would actually extend term limits.

Even Houston Mayor Annise Parker acknowledged that this week.

“I don’t know that they realized that they were giving council members more time in office,” she said.

Considering that a judge only a week ago ruled that Houston has to hold a new election on its drainage fund because of misleading ballot language, Stein said theoretically, the same could happen with this vote.

“I wouldn’t be shocked to see somebody complain about it and say, let’s go back and petition and have another referendum, which clearly explains what’s happening,” he said.

We’ve been over this a couple of times already. I honestly don’t remember the exact wording of the proposition, but I knew it meant two four year terms (even if I’d forgotten that it would be enacted immediately), and I knew I was voting against it. I think people likely didn’t fully understand what they were voting on, but that’s almost certainly because they had paid no attention to it. No one ran a campaign for it or against it, and Lord knows only a few of us read the news about what happens at City Hall. For better or worse, people need to do a little homework before they enter the polling place, and if they come out of there not knowing what they did, is that a litigation-worthy offense? If someone could convince the Supreme Court that the voters were too dumb to understand the Renew Houston referendum, who am I to say that they couldn’t do the same with this?

Precinct analysis: City propositions

Not really much to see here, but here’s what things look like for Prop 1.


Dist      Yes       No    Yes%      No%
=======================================
A       6,271   13,110  32.36%   67.64%
B       6,265   14,435  30.27%   69.73%
C      26,781   19,544  57.81%   42.19%
D       9,871   16,775  37.04%   62.96%
E       8,211   24,713  24.94%   75.06%
F       4,553    7,074  39.16%   60.84%
G      13,358   26,555  33.47%   66.53%
H       7,131    9,062  44.04%   55.96%
I       5,438    8,165  39.98%   60.02%
J       3,388    4,817  41.29%   58.71%
K       9,136   12,583  42.06%   57.94%

Elections that aren’t close yield precinct analyses that aren’t terribly interesting. District C supported HERO as expected, though for this thing to pass it probably needed to be at 65% or higher. I’ve said my piece about what I think heeds to happen next. It wasn’t about turnout, it’s about doing better outreach, all over the city. If these numbers don’t convince you of that, I don’t know what would. Lies can’t be sustained forever, but they don’t usually get dispelled without a lot of effort.

Prop 2 is more of (mostly) the same:


Dist      Yes       No    Yes%      No%
=======================================
A      11,452    7,078  61.80%   38.20%
B      12,659    5,984  67.90%   32.10%
C      29,490   14,524  67.00%   33.00%
D      17,085    8,011  68.08%   31.92%
E      18,816   12,859  59.40%   40.60%
F       7,636    3,270  70.02%   29.98%
G      22,952   15,496  59.70%   40.30%
H      10,446    4,479  69.99%   30.01%
I       8,774    3,994  68.72%   31.28%
J       5,298    2,500  67.94%   32.06%
K      14,267    6,370  69.13%   30.87%

Like I said, boring precinct data in non-close elections. It would have been truly remarkable if there had been big variations in different districts. I don’t care for the change to the term limits ordinance (which I also didn’t care for and didn’t vote for back in 1991), but it is what it is and I’m finding my way towards acceptance on it. I have said that people probably didn’t know what they were voting on here, but that’s the way it goes. If the people always understood fully what they’re voting on, Prop 1 would have passed in as much comfort as Prop 2 did.

As before, see here for pretty colored maps. I’ll be back on city races tomorrow.

What the passage of the term limits referendum means

It’s a little unclear from this story.

calvin-on-term-limits-for-dads

The passage of Proposition 2 also means some current officeholders will be able to serve longer than the six years they originally signed up for.

Current freshman council members will now be able to serve two more 4-year terms, for a total of 10 years. Those serving their second terms will be permitted a final term of four years, for a total of eight years. Those finishing their third terms this year, including Mayor Annise Parker, are not permitted to run again.

[…]

Polls did show voters were more likely to oppose the measure when told incumbents could benefit, but there was no organized campaign on either side – aside from some radio ads and phone calls funded by GOP state Sen. Paul Bettencourt – and the ballot language did not detail the impact on incumbents. Ultimately, it passed by a wide margin.

Barry Klein, who was involved in the original fight to pass Houston’s term limits in 1991, lamented that his small-government colleagues were too occupied with other issues to mount a campaign.

“The citizens of Houston used to get four elections over eight years and now will get only two, and I think we’re all worse off for that. I really do think it weakens accountability,” Klein said. “The special interests will find it easier now because when they get their man in place they won’t have to worry about him getting replaced because of term limits.”

I don’t often agree with Barry Klein, but on this matter I do. I voted against Prop 2 because I think two-year terms for city officeholders are the better idea. Increasing the number of terms they could serve is to me the much better idea, but that’s not what was on the ballot. We can argue all we want about how much voters understood Prop 2, but first let’s be clear on what this does mean, because the wording of this story is confusing. Searching my archives, I found this story from August, when the term limits item was put on the ballot. Here’s the key paragraph:

The change, if passed, would take effect for officials elected this fall. Current freshman council members could pick up two four-year terms and those serving their second term would be permitted one four-year term. Elected officials who are already term-limited would not be affected by the change.

So the next municipal election will be in 2019, and at this point all terms have become four years. Anyone elected for the first time this year – Greg Travis, for example – can run again in 2019 and serve a total of eight years. Council members elected to their third term this year, like Jerry Davis and Ellen Cohen, can serve until 2019, also for a total of eight years. This is why the original idea was to not put the change into effect until 2020, so no current members would get extra time. And the real lucky duckies, the people who were first elected in 2013, like Michael Kubosh, can run again in 2019, and if he wins he will get to serve a total of 10 years.

So. Did you know this going in? I admit, I didn’t, but then I was always a No vote on Prop 2, so this particular detail more or less didn’t matter to me. If you voted for Prop 2, does seeing this change your mind?

One side effect of this change, which I doubt has received any consideration, is that the turnout level in HISD and HCC elections will vary dramatically in years with and without city elections. How many voters do you think will show up for Trustee races in 2017 if there are no Mayor or Council races on the ballot? I mentioned this as a potential problem for the idea of moving city elections to even years, and it’s as true here. I suppose that’s not the city’s problem, and if anyone in HISD thought about it they didn’t think loudly enough for the rest of us to hear, but there it is. What effect might this have in the off-year odd-numbered elections? Other than lower turnout, hard to say. Maybe it makes it easier for upstarts to get traction, maybe it helps incumbents stay entrenched. We’ll just have to see.

Endorsement watch: Changing term limits

The Chron endorses City Proposition 2, which would change the current system of term limits from three two-year terms to two four-year terms.

calvin-on-term-limits-for-dads

If our leaders know they’ll be judged by a six-year timeline, there’s little incentive to plan for the future. If politicians are replaced every six years, we’ll keep repeating the same debates.

That’s why Houstonians should vote “yes” on the city’s proposition 2, which will change term limits to two, four-year terms for mayor and City Council. This isn’t the only modification that our City Charter needs, but the additional two years will be a step in the right direction.

However, even if the proposition passes, the debate should not end with this vote. Changing term limits will also change other dynamics at City Hall. New rules will likely be needed to prevent unintended consequences.

For example, today’s two-year terms work hand-in-hand with our strong mayor system, in which the mayor has near total control over executive and legislative duties. So while the mayor wields immense power, he also has to face regular elections. Longer terms threatens to weaken that important check.

That’s their springboard to endorsing the idea of modifying the charter to allow Council members to put items on the agenda. I continue to be indifferent to that, and I continue to be against the idea of four year terms. I don’t think they’re a good idea for municipal offices. The KHOU/KUHF poll suggests a slight lead for Prop 2, but I don’t buy it. Previous polling suggested that there was no appetite to change term limits; this is one reason why previous attempts to put a term limits referendum on the ballot didn’t go anywhere. There’s no campaign for Prop 2, and little evidence I can see of a clamor for this change. Much as I dislike our term limits ordinance, we’ve had it for 24 years, which means that politically it’s The Way Things Have Always Been Done, and stuff like that doesn’t change without an effort, and a fight. I will be more than a little surprise if Prop 2 is the exception to that.

KHOU poll: Turner 19, King and Garcia 9

Our third poll result in the past week.

Sylvester Turner remains the front-runner, but Adrian Garcia has lost his once firm grip on second place and Bill King rises into the top tier of contenders in the race for Houston mayor.

That’s the headline from the latest poll conducted for KHOU 11 News and Houston Public Media, TV-8 and News 88.7, a survey indicating Garcia and King are now fighting it out for a chance to face Turner in a runoff.

Turner heads the pack of mayoral candidates at 19%, maintaining the lead he commanded in the same poll last May. No other candidate in this poll stands in double-digits.

Garcia and King tie for second-place, both supported by 9% of surveyed voters. Chris Bell comes in fourth at 6%, followed by Steve Costello at 5% and Ben Hall at 4%.

Still, a large number of voters haven’t made up their minds. The survey of 567 likely voters conducted between September 25 and October 6 showed 42% undecided.

[…]

“I would say that Bill King is a slight — if not strong — favorite to get into the runoff,” said Bob Stein, the Rice University political scientist and KHOU political analyst who conducted the poll. “And I think Garcia is fighting now to stay in the runoff.”

Throughout the campaign to replace term-limited Mayor Annise Parker, other candidates have generally presumed Turner – a well-financed, longtime state representative who’s run for mayor twice before — will win the most votes in November. So other candidates, most notably Bell, have gone on the offensive against Garcia in hopes of knocking him out of second place.

This poll indicates the attacks criticizing Garcia’s performance as Harris County sheriff have done their damage.

A day-by-day analysis of the phone survey results also indicates the former sheriff’s candidacy has been hurt by a series of negative news reports, like a front-page Houston Chronicle story about jail inmate abuse and a KHOU 11 News I-Team expose on a $1-million jail ministry contract awarded to one of Garcia’s friends.

“We saw his support drop in half,” Stein said. “He is now in a competitive race for the runoff slot. And it’s not obvious to us that he is a guaranteed or even a likely runoff candidate.”

King has been the chief beneficiary of Garcia’s decline, mainly because of growing support from Republican voters. King and Costello have been fighting it out for GOP hearts and minds, emphasizing financial issues like the city’s growing pension obligations.

But Costello’s backing of the drainage fee to bankroll flood control infrastructure has hurt him with many Republican voters, who consider it a poorly implemented new tax.

“Bill King has gained tremendously,” Stein said. “He was barely measurable in our May poll. He’s now at 9 percentage points. Most importantly from our May poll, his gain appears to be from Republican voters.”

Republicans polled for this survey are breaking for King over Costello by a 4-to-1 ratio, Stein said.

“And here’s the good news for Bill King, if this trend continues: 45% of Republicans still don’t know who they’re voting for,” Stein said, indicating King will gain more votes as more GOP voters make up their minds.

“Keep in mind close to half of those Republican voters who are likely to vote still haven’t picked a candidate,” he said. “If the trend continues, Bill King will get that advantage, not only with Republicans over Costello, but maybe enough to get him into the runoff.”

I’d be hesitant to say that Garcia’s decline and King’s rise are related. If I had to guess, I’d say that Garcia’s former supporters are most likely to be in the “Undecided” column now, while King’s new supporters came from those who had previously been undecided. Garcia may be able to win back some of his lost supporters – I still haven’t seen any TV ads from him, so there’s plenty of room for him to go on offense, and if one of the other candidates don’t win them over, they may fall back to him. I’m sure the bad news and the attacks have taken a toll, I just wouldn’t count him out yet.

Poll data can be found here. Compared to the previous polls, the racial/ethnic mix and age distribution are about the same, with the KHOU sample having a similar partisan mix as the HAR poll, which is considerably more Democratic than the HRBC poll. That makes it better for King and more ominous for Garcia, though again there’s still room for Garcia to move back up. Note also that the HAR poll was from September 21-24, the HRBC poll from October 5-6, and the KHOU/KUHF poll from September 25-October 6, so that also suggests there is a trend away from Garcia. I don’t know if there are other polls in the pipeline, but if there are any from after October 6, I’d love to see them.

Two other matters. First, from the Chron:

In 2009, Houston’s last open-seat mayor’s race, fewer than 180,000 people cast a ballot – about 19 percent of registered voters. Stein said he expects between 200,000 and 220,000 voters to turn out this year.

That’s the first “official” guess on turnout that I’ve seen. If that’s accurate, it suggests the HERO referendum isn’t that big a driver of turnout, certainly not compared to other years with similarly high-profile referenda. I honestly don’t know what I think about that. I truly have no idea what effect HERO will have on the number of voters.

Speaking of HERO, item #2 is that this poll also asked about that issue, though for whatever the reason neither story mentioned that. HERO leads 43-37 in this poll – click the poll data link to see. Note that the pollsters also tested the efficacy of various campaign themes on the question. The “men in women’s bathrooms” attack shifts 15% of supporters, while the “we could lose the Super Bowl” attack shifts 24% of opponents. Make of that what you will. The poll also asked about the term limits referendum (44% support, 40% oppose) and the Harris County bond issue (53% support, 22% oppose), though that was from city of Houston voters only. With no campaign in support of either of those items, and given recent performance of Harris County referenda, I feel pessimistic about their chances despite their leads in this poll. There were also questions about the revenue cap and Rebuild Houston, but I’d consider them for entertainment purposes only at this point. There’s likely to be a lot of fluidity in those issues, and once they are taken up by a Mayor (if that happens at all for the revenue cap), opinions on the Mayor will come to affect the polling on them.

Change to term limits will be on the ballot

Whatever.

calvin-on-term-limits-for-dads

Houston voters will decide whether elected city officials should serve two four-year terms rather than three two-year terms starting in 2016, potentially lengthening the terms of some current council members.

The City Council voted 12-5 Wednesday to place the item on the November ballot. Councilmen Richard Nguyen, Mike Laster, Steve Costello, Michael Kubosh and C.O. Bradford voted no.

The change, if passed, would take effect for officials elected this fall. Current freshman council members could pick up two four-year terms and those serving their second term would be permitted one four-year term. Elected officials who are already term-limited would not be affected by the change.

The council has generally supported lengthening terms, but there was debate about whether such a change should go into effect immediately or in 2020, when no current council members would benefit.

See here for the background. Mayor Parker had pushed for a 2020 start date, but CM Jerry Davis’ amendment to move it to 2016 carried the day. As I said before, I don’t consider this an improvement on the current system and I don’t intend to vote Yes. I don’t know if this issue can get a full public hearing or not with HERO also on the ballot, but I do agree with the Chron editorial board about this:

While we agreed with the ad hoc committee on charter reform at the time, new facts on the ground should lead council members to reconsider their votes. Beyond the fight over the equal rights ordinance, changes to fundraising laws also raise additional issues that haven’t yet been considered. City Hall candidates used to be prohibited from raising money for 10 months between election cycles. This blackout ordinance, passed in 1992, was temporarily blocked by a federal judge earlier this year.

Under the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. FEC, monetary donations to political campaigns are protected as free speech. Houston policy makers have yet to comprehend the long-term local consequences of this ruling. Before moving forward on a vote, City Council should appoint a commission of experts to study how campaign fundraising interacts with term limits.

As you know, that’s singing from my hymnal. It’s not too late to have that conversation about campaign finances regardless of what happens in this referendum. That lawsuit filed by At Large #1 candidate Trebor Gordon, for which the aforementioned injunction was granted, may also force the issue. (A similar lawsuit was filed in Austin two weeks ago as well.) Let’s tackle the whole question, not just a piece of it. Campos has more.

Change to term limits may be on the November ballot as well

Here we go again.

calvin-on-term-limits-for-dads

Mayor Annise Parker’s proposal would wait until 2020 to lengthen City Council members, the mayor and and controller’s terms; while Councilman Jerry Davis is proposing a staggered roll-out starting in 2016. Supporters say the 2020 plan would be the easiest sell to voters, with no current elected officials standing to benefit.

Though Parker has said the presence of the equal rights ordinance on the November ballot will distract from a “good government” campaign for term limits, she said Wednesday she plans to vote in favor of the 2020 proposal.

“It’s easier for everybody to be able to stand here and say it wouldn’t happen until people were sworn into office in January 2020 than it would happen when people are sworn into office in 2016,” Parker said. “‘And, oh by the way, you’re voting for mayoral candidates and you don’t know if that person is going to serve two years or four years.’ That’s a heavy lift.”

Davis’ proposal would affect only those council members who already have one or two more terms of eligibility left:

Any council member or elected official who is currently in their final term would not be eligible to serve an additional term — Parker, for example.
Any council member or elected official who is in midst of their second term currently would be eligible for one four-year term — Davis is in this category.
Any council member or elected official who is still in their first term currently would be eligible for two four-year terms.

“There’s always going to be a problem with the transition,” Davis said. “And I think with a new mayor coming in, it’s actually a good time. In the essence of good government, it’s a good time.”

I don’t have an opinion on this, because I still believe that the “two four-year terms” plan is not an improvement on the “three two-year terms” status quo. I understand why incumbents don’t want to have to run for re-election every two years – I don’t blame them, but given that Helena Brown and Andrew Burks would still be on Council right now if we were under that plan, my sympathy has its limits – but I don’t care for the alternative. Either increase the number of terms a Council member can serve – six terms has always seemed like a good number to me if we must have term limits – get rid of them altogether, or don’t bother. I don’t see myself voting for this proposal regardless of when it would begin to take effect.

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.

Alvarado’s term limits bill

From the inbox:

Rep. Carol Alvarado

Rep. Carol Alvarado

State Representative Carol Alvarado has filed HB 2917 that, if passed by the Legislature and approved by voters, would change the city’s term limit structure to two four-year terms for the mayor, city controller and councilmembers.

“The city’s current structure of three two-year terms restricts an elected official’s ability to truly dive into the issues that are affecting the city and their respective member’s district,” said Rep. Alvarado. “By changing the term limit structure, members would have a better opportunity to engage in long term planning for the city and have more influence in local, state and national policies that can affect the city.”

Efforts to change the city’s term limits have occurred on both the state and local levels. For the past several years, Representative Garnet Coleman has filed a bill that would amend the city’s term limit structure. Additionally, Houston’s City Council Ad Hoc Charter Review Committee, which has been studying this issue, voted to recommend changing the term limits of city officials to two four-year terms instead of the existing three two-year terms beginning in 2019. If approved by city council, this amendment could go before the voters in November of 2015.

“I would like to thank Representative Coleman, as well as the city’s Ad Hoc Charter Review Committee, for their hard work on this issue and look forward to working with them this session to get this issue passed and to the voters,” added Alvarado.

Rep. Coleman’s bill from 2009, which would have extended Houston’s term limits from six years to twelve, passed the House by a wide margin and won unanimous approval from the Senate committee, but did not come up for a vote by the full Senate. I didn’t note any of his subsequent bills, so my guess is that they didn’t get anywhere. (Sorry, too lazy to look them up.) Be that as it may, that bill was filed at a time when a commission that had been appointed by outgoing Mayor Bill White was holding hearings and soliciting feedback. In the end, they made the same recommendation of two four-year terms that the Council committee made this year, but that committee’s proposal was rejected by Council. A different proposal made in 2012 by then-CM Andrew Burks was also rejected. I presume this bill, which has the same two fours mandate as this Council committee, is there as a backup in case the Council plan goes down. I’m not sure what purpose it serves otherwise. I’ve got to say, given the attack on local control this session, I’d rather the idea be dropped if Council refuses to approve it for the ballot. Let city office holders be accountable for this decision, whichever way they go.

Council recommends term limits change

Meh, I say.

calvin-on-term-limits-for-dads

A Houston City Council committee Tuesday night recommended changing the term limits of elected officials from three two-year terms to two four-year terms starting in 2019, a charter change that could go to voters in November.

The ad-hoc charter review committee voted 10-3 to recommend the two four-year terms in January, but questions lingered about whether council would ask voters to implement that change in 2015 or 2017, potentially lengthening the terms of some current council members.

Instead, the lightly attended committee voted 5-4 last night to recommend the 2019 start date, saying voters would be more apt to support the change if they didn’t view it as a self-serving political move orchestrated by sitting council members.

[…]

The committee ultimately recommended two proposals: one to change the term limits and the other to allow six council members to place an item on agenda, a power that is currently held only by Mayor Annise Parker.

I agree with not having any changes to term limits affect current elected officials, which was the position advocated by CM Bradford. Anything else would be seen as self-serving. That said, I am at best lukewarm on both of those proposals. I still don’t think two four-year terms represents an improvement over the existing system (and you know I don’t like the existing system), and I don’t care one way or the other about the council-can-place-items-on-the-agenda proposal.

Mayor Parker, on the other hand, is against it.

Mayor Annise Parker has largely dismissed a council-backed city charter change that would allow six members to place an item on the agenda, undercutting Houston’s strong-mayor form of government that grants only her that power.

Last summer, Parker branded the proposal a “non-starter,” saying “voters don’t care” about the issue. Recently, she also said that it might violate the state’s Open Meetings Act, which prevents council members from gathering to discuss an agenda item outside of a properly posted meeting.

“What they want to do is for six council members to get together and secretly meet and decide on an agenda item,” Parker said. “Well, you can’t secretly meet to decide on an agenda item. You can’t even publicly meet. In order for council members to confer at all about an item of business, it has to be publicly posted.”

[…]

Councilman C.O. Bradford, a lawyer, said that a state Attorney General decision allowing Dallas’ agenda rule disputes the mayor’s claim that the Open Meetings Act would be violated. So long as voters approve the charter change, he said, council members could take up issues at regularly scheduled committee meetings and decide there whether to place them on the full council agenda.

“The council voting unanimously in favor of the item surprised (Parker,)” Bradford said. “And now she’s had to take this stand of, well, now it’s illegal. But that is just simply not the case.”

Rashaad Gambrell, a senior assistant attorney for the city, said Bradford has raised a complicated legal issue. As the proposal is written now, Gambrell said, there’s no clear legal mechanism to allow council members to poll one another and develop an opinion on an item. The proposal would need to be reworked, Gambrell said, noting that several of the charter reforms City Council is mulling will need editing before they’re considered “ballot ready.” A similar proposal in the 1990s that would have allowed three council members to place an item on the regular agenda failed at City Council and never made it to the ballot.

Legal questions aside, Parker’s dismissal of the agenda proposal is hardly surprising, said University of Houston political science professor Richard Murray.

“You’ve got the strongest mayor job in the country and this would significantly alter the way City Hall operates,” Murray said. “It’s the instinctive reaction to say ‘no.'”

It’s not unreasonable to be wary of this fundamental a change. I suspect one’s opinion of Mayor Parker colors one’s view of the proposal. On a related note, I also still think the committee wussed out in not putting forward a proposal to repeal the revenue cap. We’ll see how I feel in six months or so, but right now the odds are a No vote from me on each.

On the seasonal return of term limits modification

Here’s a fuller version of that earlier story about Council moving forward with a modified term limits proposal.

calvin-on-term-limits-for-dads

You can almost set your watch by it.

Mayor Annise Parker is in her third and final term, which means it is time for the cycle that has repeated roughly every six years since voters imposed term limits on City Hall in 1991: City Council is discussing asking voters to change those term limits.

This loop started with the late Bob Lanier, whom voters first elected as mayor the same year they chose to cap city officials’ tenures in office, for the first time, at six years: three terms of two years each.

Lanier started as a supporter of term limits, but as his departure approached in 1997 – and his backers pushed a bill in the Legislature to let him stay longer – his stance switched. Both local and state efforts to let him stick around came to naught, however.

Lanier was succeeded by Lee Brown, who pledged to pursue term-limit changes during his final stint in office but didn’t make much progress.

Brown’s successor, Bill White, was careful not to push term-limits reform as he eyed a run for governor, but he did form a commission to study the issue. That group’s recommendations were forwarded in 2010 to City Council. The body failed to place them before voters, concerned that the proposal, by allowing some incumbents to serve longer than six years, would appear self-serving.

These late-term mayoral pushes ignore still other times that City Council members or influential business leaders and political insiders discussed but ultimately dropped plans to push for term-limit changes – most commonly, to switch to two four-year terms – in 1997, 1999, 2001, 2004 and 2012.

Whether 2015 will be added to that list of dates when talk of reform fizzled is up to City Council, which is in the process of discussing reforms to the city charter, including term limits.

See here for the earlier story. I don’t really have much to add to this, I’d just forgotten that Mayors Lanier and Brown had taken a shot at changing the ordinance as well. And I’ll never understand the allure – from the public’s perspective, anyway – of four year terms. I’m in wait-and-see mode for now. Campos has more.

Term limits change approved by Council committee

One step closer to the ballot.

HoustonSeal

Most council members are in favor of changing term limits from three two-year terms to two four-year terms.

They will refer their recommendation to the mayor, who will then put it up for a vote during a regular council meeting.

“If in fact the full council supports it, it then will be added to the November 2015 ballot,” Council member Larry Green said.

He is one of the 10 members who voted for the recommendation.

The ad-hoc City Charter Review Committee consists of all 16 council members, but Green said the committee vote doesn’t necessarily mean it will pass.

“There are some council members who wanted to see other changes along with term limits,” he said. “And so they may not be in support if some of the other items don’t get up to vote to be added to the ballot.”

See here for the background. I’ve explained my problems with four year terms before, so I’ll spare you the usual kvetching. Given the abolition of the fundraising blackout period, it’s even harder for me to see the justification for four year terms. Any incumbent that doesn’t go into their re-election year with a six figure-plus campaign treasury will have committed political malpractice. How exactly is this going to make things better? We’ll see how it goes when it comes up for a final vote.

There will be charter referenda next year

Details are pending, but one way or another we’ll get to vote on some charter changes next November.

HoustonSeal

City Council members on Thursday agreed that any city charter reforms, including changes to term limits, should go to voters in November rather than May next year, but they kicked most substantive discussion of those issues to future meetings.

Thursday marked the second charter committee meeting on possible changes, most notably switching from three two-year terms to two four-year terms and repealing a voter-imposed revenue cap. The committee’s actions have no binding power, but the goal is to come up with recommendations for which changes should go to voters.

And though Thursday’s agenda called for discussion about the proposed reforms, the meeting largely turned on the logistics of future charter meetings: how many to schedule, whether they should be held during the day or at night and if they should be conducted outside of council chambers.

Council members agreed to hold six bi-weekly meetings starting next year, to alternate meeting times between day and night and to hold them in council chambers.

[…]

Councilman C.O. Bradford, who has been pushing the charter reform conversation for months, has laid out four basic reform proposals. Councilman Michael Kubosh on Thursday tacked on another voter issue, a possible vote on a failed feeding ordinance petition he helped organize.

Bradford’s reforms, in addition to the term limits, are as follows:

  • Any item advanced by at least six council members could be placed on City Council agenda.
  • City Council could meet in executive session.
  • The city would dedicate any funds above the revenue cap (if repealed) to paying down general fund debt.

See here, here, and here for the background. The first point that needs to be made is that I don’t see a specific proposal to repeal the revenue cap. What I do see is Bradford’s “revenue cap lite” proposal, which I object to for the same reason that I object to the existing revenue cap. If the Mayor and Council choose in a given year to dedicate funds to paying down the debt, that’s fine. I have a problem with requiring them to do so, in the same way that I have a problem with requiring them to pass pointless tax cuts instead. We elect Mayors and Council members to make these decisions. If we don’t like the decisions they make, we should vote them out. That’s how this is supposed to work.

As for the term limits proposal, Campos asks why the fixation on four year terms (he has some good thoughts on the subject as well that you should read). I think the simple answer is that switching from three two year terms to two four year terms is about the most minimal change to the term limits law you can make, and as such will be the easiest change to sell to a public that has accepted term limits as the de facto standard. You know how I feel about this. I can’t see me voting for this change. I recognize that rejecting this will be seen as an affirmation of the three two year term status quo, which I don’t like either. I don’t have a good answer for that. All I can do is continue to stump for something better, which to my mind would be a combination of no term limits and some form of public financing for campaigns. And while I’m at it, I’ll write a letter to Santa Claus asking him to bring me a pony this Christmas. I figure the odds of that happening are about as good.

I have no opinion on the other items at this time. What I do have an opinion on is that if we’re going to go through this exercise, why not also include a proposal to repeal the 2001 amendment that banned domestic partner benefits for city employees? Yes, I know Mayor Parker issued an executive order extending these benefits to all legally married couples, including same sex couples, and yes I know there is litigation over that. Repealing the 2001 amendment would put her order on firmer legal ground, it would enable more employees to take advantage of this benefit, and it would remove a stain from the charter. And yes, I know that we might have to vote on a repeal referendum for the equal rights ordinance. But maybe we won’t – we should know well in advance of the August deadline for ballot items – and even if we do, why not play offense as well? I’d at least like for us to talk about it. More from Campos here.

Charter review gets set

From Campos:

HoustonSeal

This Thursday, December 4 the City Council’s Ad Hoc Charter Review committee will meet and several members of Council want the following in BOLD discussed. I have added a few devil’s advocate observations. BTW: All members of City Council are on the committee. Here are proposed changes:

1. Authorize any item(s) acknowledged and advanced by at least six (6) Council Members to be placed on the Council Agenda for full Council consideration. I would like to be given an example of what items some Council members would want on the agenda. Why can’t they just ask the Mayor to put something on?

2. Authorize Executive Session meetings for City Council. This to me right off the bat doesn’t sound good. This doesn’t speak well of transparency in government. We have been doing OK without Executive Sessions. I don’t like the idea of trying to guess if deals were cut in closed session – if you know what I mean.

3. Change term limits to two four-year terms beginning with the 2015 City Election. I think if you want to change term limits, go get petitions and do it from the grass roots up. This is just pi__ing off some voters again and haven’t we done enough of that lately. Just go for broke and get signatures to do away with term limits – period.

4. Authorize the City to keep and invest excess revenue above the Rev Cap Spending Limits to be used exclusively to pay down the General Fund Debt. Now this one is going to need a lot of ‘splaining.

It is going to be interesting to see what the Mayoral candidates have to say about the proposals. Stay tuned!

Texpatriate was on this right before Thanksgiving. These ideas first came up last year, and I outlined my basic positions on them in October. I’d say Marc and Noah and I are broadly in agreement on the first three. The last one, as far as I can tell, is what I’d call “revenue cap lite”. The rationale for it is described in the comments to this post. What it means, more or less, is that if city revenue exceeds the stupid revenue cap for whatever the reason, then instead of forcing Council to pass a pointless tax cut, the revenue above the cap can be used to pay down debt. It’s superficially appealing in the same way that the revenue cap itself is superficially appealing, and if my only choices were this and the revenue cap as is, I’d choose this. The problem is that as with the cap itself, it substitutes slogans for discretion and imposes a priority (in this case, debt reduction) over everything else, in particular investment in infrastructure or other worthwhile possibilities. What if we wanted to spend the extra revenue we have this cycle on body cameras for HPD, as a for-instance? Sorry, no can do – it has to compete with everything else in the rest of the budget. Maybe debt reduction really is the best use for the bonus revenue we might have in a given year. If so, then let Council and/or the Mayor make the case for it, just like anything else. Last I checked, that was how representative democracy was supposed to work.

Anyway. Hard to know which if any of these proposals will have enough support to make it past the committee meeting stage, or if this will wind up being a lot of talk for no action. As Campos says, it will be interesting to see what the 87 and counting Mayoral candidates think about all of this. Texas Leftist has more.

Chartering

There will be more than just the Mayor’s race going on in 2015.

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

Houston is guaranteed a frantic 2015 political season with an open mayor’s race on the ballot, but it could get busier still with growing talk of placing the city charter before voters for possible changes to term limits, the city revenue cap and other reforms.

Whether any of the proposed amendments goes to a vote next May or alongside the mayoral contest next November, the state constitution requires a two-year gap between charter changes, so all reforms would need to be voted on at once.

The question, given a difference of opinion between term-limited Mayor Annise Parker and some City Council members, is what will make the ballot.

Parker has warned of widespread layoffs with next summer’s budget unless the decade-old, voter-imposed revenue cap is altered or scrapped, but she may prefer a November vote to avoid the measure being torpedoed by the hard-core right in a low-turnout May election. Even at that, she has not guaranteed a vote on the issue.

The mayor also has pledged to let voters consider a change in term limits – likely from three two-year terms to two four-year terms – but support evaporated on City Council when that idea last was discussed in 2012.

Some council members, meanwhile, are pushing for broader reforms, including a proposal to let six members team up to place items on the council agenda for a vote; only the mayor can do so today, though three council members can call a special meeting.

Councilman C.O. Bradford, who long has argued for charter reform, is pushing that idea, which he says will enable council to better address small, neighborhood issues.

All that is in addition to the possibility of a referendum to repeal the Equal Rights Ordinance, depending on how things go in court. All forty-seven Mayoral candidates (or is it fifty-eight, I’ve lost count) will need to deal with these issues whether they want to or not.

I know, I’m still not ready to start talking about 2015 yet, so let me keep this brief.

1. I support any and all efforts to repeal the stupid revenue cap. I will not vote for any Mayoral candidate that is not on board with repealing the revenue cap.

2. My preference for term limits is to abolish them. Given that that isn’t going to happen, I would greatly prefer extending them to allow more two-year terms – six seems like a reasonable number to me – over any proposal that includes changing the length of the term in office to four years. To me, the ability to quickly correct a mistake like Helena Brown outweighs any purported downside of making people begin campaigning for re-election so soon. If the real complaint here is that nobody likes having to raise money for their campaigns – a complaint with which I sympathize – then let me propose a system of public financing for campaigns, which not only would alleviate the dialing-for-dollars drudgery, it would also address the original justification for term limits. I call that a win-win.

3. I currently have no opinion about CM Bradford’s proposal. I will be interested to hear what the seventy-three Mayoral candidates have to say about it.

January campaign finance reports for Houston officeholders

One more set of finance reports to document, from city of Houston officeholders and candidates. I’m not going to link to the individual reports this time, since the city’s system automatically downloads the PDFs and I don’t feel like uploading these all to my Google drive. Here are the basic summaries, with my comments afterwards

Officeholder Office Raised Spent Loan Cash ========================================================== Parker Mayor 121,165 574,185 0 461,089 Green Controller 6,575 39,253 0 14,585 Costello AL1 81,200 62,410 15,000 144,753 Robinson AL2 26,246 33,265 0 32,918 Kubosh AL3 83,691 84,157 15,000 11,452 Bradford AL4 8,050 30,257 0 33,485 Christie AL5 15,275 11,606 0 10,548 Stardig A 5,250 30,393 0 24,238 Davis B 19,300 28,798 0 84,551 Cohen C 47,982 76,405 0 93,364 Boykins D 16,375 49,004 0 6,727 Martin E 45,650 27,968 0 43,423 Nguyen F 21,269 5,795 0 8,750 Pennington G 13,550 30,046 0 192,142 Gonzales H 40,375 33,623 0 90,782 Gallegos I 38,882 18,279 0 22,940 Laster J 3,500 8,081 0 77,408 Green K 10,150 15,455 0 77,366 Hale SD15 0 472 0 0 Noriega HCDE 0 8,690 1,000 9,335 Chavez AL3 3,150 6,652 160 15,716 Calvert AL3 1,600 65,031 10,000 2,654 Brown A 21,969 22,121 0 25,729 Peck A 0 2,811 0 0 Knox A 1,220 17,271 0 931 Richards D 2,000 16,043 0 2,727 Jones, J D 0 0 0 3,203 Provost D 7,960 9,033 0 15 Edwards D 3,745 4,415 0 0 Rodriguez I 0 3,581 0 6,731 Garces I 32,950 49,802 0 0 Ablaza I 380 10,288 0 673 Mendez I 2,050 19,120 0 0

Mayor Parker has a decent amount on hand, not as much as she had after some other elections, but then she won’t be on any ballot until 2018, so there’s no rush. I know she has at least one fundraiser happening, and I’m sure she’ll have a solid start on fundraising for whatever office she might have her eye on in four years’ time.

And speaking of being prepared for the next election, CM Costello is in pretty good shape, too. It’ll take a lot more money than that to mount a successful campaign for Mayor in 2015, and there are likely to be several strong candidates competing for the usual pots of cash, but every little bit helps.

The other At Large incumbents are in reasonable shape. Both Kubosh and Christie have done some degree of self-funding, so their totals aren’t worrisome. While I believe there will be some competitive At Large races in 2015, and not just in the two open seats, I don’t think anyone will be caught short in this department the way Andrew Burks was.

I continue to marvel at the totals in the district seats. Many of those incumbents have been helped by not having well-financed opponents. CMs Gonzales and Pennington are well placed if they have their eyes on another race. Personally, I think CM Gonzales ought to consider running for City Controller. If nothing else, that will likely be less crowded than the Mayor’s race in 2015.

CM Richard Nguyen, who was nicely profiled by Mustafa Tameez recently, received nearly half of his total – $9,500, to be exact – from various PACs after the election; this is called “late train” money. As far as the money he received from individuals, every one of them had a Vietnamese name. That’s some good networking there.

Of the others listed, two of them – Ron Hale and Melissa Noriega – are running for something in 2014. The rest, with one exception, was either an unsuccessful candidate in 2013 or a term-limited Council member. The exception is former CM Jolanda Jones, whose eligibility to run for something else remains disputed. The one notable thing in this bunch is the $25K that now-former CM Helena Brown had on hand. Given that CM Brenda Stardig left a lot of money unspent in 2011 when Brown knocked her off, there’s a certain irony to that. Beyond that, no one left themselves very much for a subsequent campaign if they have one in mind. I won’t be surprised if one or more people on this list runs for something again, perhaps in 2015, but if so they’ll be starting out as they did in 2013.

Why not three?

Greg suggests a couple of tweaks to term limits.

Jolanda Jones

Jolanda Jones

» Fix the JoJo exclusion. The statute, as written, is amazingly short and simple:

Section 6a. – Limitation of terms.
No person, who has already served two full terms, shall be eligible to file for that same office.

The statute is also amazingly unequal in how it applies a qualification for office. So much so, that I’m curious if this inequality provides an opening for a legal challenge. Basically, the law says that some folks get to serve three full terms and some only get to serve two full terms. If a candidate loses re-election to their second term (ala Brenda Stardig and Helena Brown), you have an entirely different qualification for office than someone who lost re-election to their third term (ala Jolanda Jones and Al Hoang).

There haven’t been many parties aggrieved by this statute, so it seems to me that there might be improved odds of that happening now that we have two such individuals. I would think that there might be ground to make this application more equal by substituting equally simple language that limits any officeholder to no more than three full terms … period.

That may not address any deeper concerns about the Clymer Wright-era limitations. But it does offer an incremental cleanup. And if it were to go through a charter amendment vote, it might be an easy enough one that it opens the door for public perception to see that elected officials aren’t trying to change the rules they have to abide by in the middle of the game. If you’re not sure about the public appetite for altering term limits, this modification would be a good test run.

» Why not three? – Many Texas towns have three year terms. Why is there such an immediate impetus for four-year terms when there is already a more common model already being utilized throughout Texas? You could leave the term-limit language as-is or make the tweak above. Doing so would create a nine-year window of service for people.

More importantly, it would also open Houston City Council to the whims of bigger electorates. If you really wanted to see a different City Council, the easiest place to start has always been to hold the election on even-numbered years. District A would be quite a bit more Dem-friendly, as would District F. My own District J, as it turns out, is as close to 50-50 in terms of partisanship among city year voters. That tilt would be eviscerated with an even-year electorate and the district would be reliably Dem-leaning. The rotating cycle of seats would lead to a seat being up for a vote in two odd-numbered election years for each six-year cycle. So there is some moderation to those swings that might be appealing.

It would seem practical, under this scenario, to stagger the elections so that each individual year would see one-third of city seats up for a votes. I’m not sure who that may appeal to or be unappealing to, frankly. One positive that I can see from this is that it might lead to an increase in competition for seats. If an elected thought to run for Mayor one year after being elected to a council seat, they could. In short, there would no longer be an incentive to sit out six years when terms are the same – as they currently are for the office of Mayor and Controller.

I completely agree with the first point, and also think it would have a decent shot of being passed. I think everyone already thinks of the term limits law as being “three terms max” and not “three terms unless you leave after your second term, in which case only two terms”. I’d add that there’s a third former Council member affected by the current interpretation – Peter Brown, who resigned a few days early in 2009 in an attempt to circumvent this; City Attorney David Feldman opined against it. In any event, I think this minor change is very doable. It’s straightforward enough that the plain wording of the amended ordinance would be easy enough for voters to understand and hard to argue against. Heck, I don’t even know what the case against it would be. If we want to go small, as a first step or as an end unto itself, this is a good way to do it.

The second suggestion would be much more contentious. I’m not sure if it’s meant as a switch from three two-year terms to two three-year terms, or if it’s also intended to increase the overall allowable length of service while also addressing the concern about two year election cycles being too short, as the two four-year terms proposal was intended. If we were to go this route, I’d prefer the latter, but that may be a bridge too far. Here are the pros and cons of three-year terms as I see them.

Pro:

  • Higher turnout in at least half of city elections. Presidential years would exceed 50%, gubernatorial years would likely exceed 35%. Both are much higher than even high-turnout city elections have been.
  • As Greg notes, this would almost surely make city government more representative of the city’s demographics. In particular, I’d expect this to be a boon for Latino candidates, at least in the even-numbered years.
  • If you believe that two-year terms force Council members back into campaign mode too quickly, then having three-year terms should help alleviate that.
  • You may consider this a pro or a con, but having three-year terms would likely force some ambitious Council members to rethink their strategy for seeking other office, since the Texas constitution would require them to resign if they run for office with more than one year remaining on their current term. That’s just not an issue now with two-year terms, but it would be an issue at least some of the time with three-year terms.

Con:

  • That higher turnout will come entirely from people who otherwise would never vote in city elections. To put it gently, that could have an unpredictable effect on lower-profile and multi-candidate races.
  • Having city elections in partisan election years will necessarily make city elections more partisan. Sure, there are partisan elements to city elections now, with some races being more overt than others, but the non-partisan nature of our races now basically ensures that the vast majority of candidates run as inclusive/consensus types. I expect you’d see much harder D and R lines being taken in even years. Again, one may consider that to be more pro than con, but it would be a change.
  • Perhaps of greater concern is the likelihood that city races could get drowned out in a high-profile even year election. Imagine what city elections might look like this year, where we’re sure to get wall-to-wall ads in the Governor’s race for at least the entire month of October.
  • Large disparities in turnout between even and odd years could make for more turnover on Council, as a candidate that got elected under one scenario might well get swept out under the other, in each case with candidate quality not being a major factor.

I’m doing a lot of speculating here, and I could easily be wrong about some of these points, but I think they’re worth considering. Three-year terms would be a big change, some likely good and some maybe not so good. I still think a better answer is to get rid of term limits (which Greg also suggests) and to at least consider some form of public financing for campaigns. At the very least, I’d like to see a real conversation about what we think we’re getting out of imposing these particular limits on this one type of office. It’s been long enough now that I’m confident that “we’ve always done it this way” is the prevailing sentiment. Surely we can come up with something better than that.

Time to talk term limits again

The subject keeps coming up, though it never seems to get anywhere.

calvin-on-term-limits-for-dads

As the inauguration of Houston’s elected leaders begins Thursday morning, supporters and spectators gathered at the Wortham Center downtown will see six new City Council members walk across the stage.

Observers at the ceremony two years ago saw seven new members sworn in, and those present two years before that saw five new faces cross the stage. That’s 18 position turnovers in four years around a horseshoe that seats 17, including the mayor, as Councilman C.O. Bradford pointed out at the council’s final meeting of the year two weeks ago.

With this churn in mind, Mayor Annise Parker, Bradford and others are calling for changes to the city’s term limits structure, which allows three two-year terms for the mayor, city controller and council members.

“That’s simply too frequent. When I came to council, there were council members in the process of leaving … and they were just well-seasoned, they were just at the point where they were really ready to dig in and serve the city,” said Bradford, who is starting his third and final term. “As we go forward in efforts to move our city forward, look at 18 turnovers in a four-year period and look at the challenge that presents.”

Parker, herself term-limited out of office at the end of 2016, said she will ask council to present voters with a shift to two four-year terms, adding that any proposal will not apply to her.

We all know how I feel about term limits, right? OK, with that out of the way, let me say that I don’t care for four-year terms on Council. For those of you who think Council will be a better place minus Helena Brown and/or Andrew Burks, they would both be beginning the second half of their first term if we had four-year terms in place now. I think having two year terms helps keep Council members accountable, and better enables us to correct mistakes in a timely fashion as needed. I understand that many Council members dislike having to transition into campaign mode so soon after being elected, and I get that the grind of fundraising sucks. That’s why I believe a better solution to address these issues is changing the nature of our system of financing campaigns. To my mind, if we can level the playing field between incumbents and challengers, we can better address the problem that term limits was supposed to solve. I’m very open to the idea of publicly financing campaigns, at least at the municipal level to begin with. There are big problems to solve in such a system, how to finance it and how to regulate private contributions in a constitutional way being the two main ones, but I see it as a worthwhile goal that actually has a chance of solving the underlying problem. You could take the approach that no one should be allowed to run for re-election, but that still doesn’t address the question of how campaigns are financed, and I personally see value in giving good public servants a chance to keep doing what they’re good at doing. All I ask about the forthcoming debate over our current and highly sub-optimal term limits system is that we start by pledging to review the whole thing and to consider options that have been left out of previous discussions. We’ll see if this effort makes it any farther than the last one did.

Is CM-elect Stardig term limited or not?

Brenda Stardig

Brenda Stardig

I brought this up yesterday in my wrapup of the city and HCC runoffs, and I’m asking it again here in the hope that someone who can provide a definitive answer will offer one. The question I have is whether or not CM Brenda Stardig is eligible to run for re-election in 2015. As I noted in that post, CM Stardig’s position is similar to that of former CM Jolanda Jones, who flirted with the idea of running in District D this year, thus igniting a stir over whether or not the term limits law allowed for her to run. The law says “No person, who has already served two full terms, shall be eligible to file for that same office.” City Attorney David Feldman interpreted that to mean that Jones could not run again, since she has served two full terms. My initial reaction was that Stardig was in the same kind of boat, but thinking about it again now, she’s not. If Stardig were to run for a third term, she would file for that election prior to serving out her second term, thus meeting the requirements of the term limits ordinance. A Houston Politics post from 2012 that includes a copy of Feldman’s position supports that view. In practical terms, that means that if you’re an incumbent Council member and you must lose an election, better it to be after your first term than after your second. You can win one, lose one, then win two more, but if you win two and then lose one, you’re out of luck. In other words, Helena Brown and Andrew Burks could come back and wind up serving three terms on Council just as Stardig could, but Jolanda Jones and Al Hoang are finished as Council members, though they could still run for Controller or Mayor.

All that assumes you accept Feldman’s interpretation, which Jones at least said she didn’t. I have to say, while this may be technically correct, it feels wrong to me. The clear intent of the term limits law was to restrict Council members, Controllers, and Mayors to three terms. It’s possible there was some discussion at the time of whether or not those terms had to be consecutive or not – it’s been a long time, I sure don’t remember – but even if there were I’m willing to bet that the prevailing opinion among city voters would overwhelmingly favor the simple “three terms and you’re done” perspective”. I presume that sooner or later this is going to need to be settled by a judge, or by a fix to the ordinance being passed by the voters. Be that as it may, I feel confident that the subject will come up again, any time the subject turns to Stardig and her possible re-election effort in two years.

One reason why this may matter, beyond the simple effect on folks like Stardig and Jones, was vocalized by Texpatriate, who wondered “if Brenda 2.0 becomes super conservative just to placate some of her angry, right-wing constituents”. Maybe the odds of that are greater if she has the option to run for re-election – she might emulate some of CM Brown’s positions in order to protect herself against a third matchup with Brown, for example. No guarantee she’s behave this way – Stardig might well conclude that there are limits to the crazy in District A, and her successful comeback is proof of that. Regardless, it’s not unreasonable to think that a term-limited Stardig could be a different Council member than a Stardig who has one more campaign to go.

So that’s my question. Writing this has led me to what I think is the technically correct answer, but I’m not convinced that the matter is settled. What do you think?

Runoff results: Rough day for incumbents

I have no complaint about the results.

Brenda Stardig

Brenda Stardig

With all precincts reporting, controversial first-term council incumbents Helena Brown, in northwest Houston’s District A, and Andrew C. Burks Jr., in At-Large Position 2, fell to their challengers, as did HCC trustees Yolanda Navarro Flores and Herlinda Garcia.

Brown lost her rematch with Brenda Stardig, the incumbent she defeated to gain the seat two years ago.

“We’re very proud of the work we’ve done on our campaign and we wanted to get back out there and support our community,” Stardig said. “We’ve had the support of police and fire and so many in our community.”

[…]

Burks fell to challenger David W. Robinson, a civic leader and former city planning commissioner. Robinson raised far more campaign cash than did Burks, who had run unsuccessfully numerous times before winning his seat two years ago. Both men were among the 10 candidates who sought the post when it was an open seat two years ago.

[…]

In the At-Large 3 runoff, bail bondsman and civic activist Michael Kubosh, best known for leading the charge against Houston’s red-light cameras, topped former Harris County Department of Education trustee and former mayoral candidate Roy Morales.

“I appreciate all the people who have supported me and all of my staff that’s worked so hard through the last few months,” Kubosh said. “I’m looking very forward to working on City Council and getting things done.”

[…]

In south Houston’s District D, lobbyist Dwight Boykins bested businesswoman Georgia D. Provost. Boykins had thumped the 11 other candidates in fundraising heading into November. Term-limited District D Councilwoman Wanda Adams was elected to the Houston ISD board.

In a very low-turnout race in the East End’s District I, Harris County jailer and civic activist Robert Gallegos beat Graci Garcés, who is chief of staff for the term-limited James Rodriguez.

So I was three for four in my prognostications. I can’t say I’m unhappy to have been wrong about District A. I am curious about one thing, however, and that’s whether or not Brenda Stardig is eligible under the term limits amendment to run for election again in 2015. If you consider her situation to be analogous to that of former CM Jolanda Jones, and you go by the interpretation given by City Attorney David Feldman, the answer would seem to be No. I made an inquiry about this with the City Attorney’s office several weeks ago, but they have never gotten back to me. Guess I need to try again. Anyway, congratulations to CMs-elect Stardig, Boykins, Gallegos, Robinson, and Kubosh.

The results I’m really happy about are these:

In the Houston Community College contests, District 1 incumbent Flores lost to challenger Zeph Capo, a vice president of the Houston Federation of Teachers. In District 3, Adriana Tamez, an education consultant, beat incumbent Garcia, who was appointed to the post after the resignation of the prior trustee. In the runoff for the open District 5 seat, businessman Robert Glaser topped commercial real estate agent Phil Kunetka.

Capo over Flores is a huge step up, and Tamez is an upgrade as well. Both Flores and Herlinda Garcia were palling around with Dave Wilson, so having them both lose makes the HCC Board of Trustees a better place. Major congrats to Zeph Capo, Adriana Tamez, and Robert Glaser.

Here are the unofficial Harris County results. There were an additional 308 votes cast in Fort Bend, so the final turnout is right at 37,000. Here’s an update to that table I published Friday:

Year Absent Early E-Day Total Absent% Early% E-Day% ============================================================ 2005 5,350 8,722 24,215 38,287 13.97% 22.78% 62.25% 2007s 5,464 7,420 11,981 24,865 21.97% 29.84% 48.18% 2007 4,456 6,921 13,313 24,690 18.05% 28.03% 53.92% 2011 8,700 15,698 31,688 56,086 15.51% 27.99% 56.50% 2013 9,883 10,143 13,517 36,123 27.36% 28.08% 37.42%

See, that’s the kind of pattern I was expecting for the November election. I guess the turnout was too high for it. Gotta tip your hat to whichever candidate’s mail program generated all those votes. It’s good to be surprised sometimes.

What’s on the agenda for Mayor Parker in her third term

Now that Mayor Parker has been safely re-elected, with a better-than-expected margin, what does she plan to do from here?

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

A triumphant Parker on Tuesday lauded her “decisive” victory but quickly shifted her focus to the coming two years, listing her third-term priorities as jobs, economic development, rebuilding streets and drainage, and financial accountability.

“There are no quick fixes. We’re rebuilding Houston for the decades, and we’re doing it right,” she said. “My election is over, but the work is going to get much tougher. … The next two years starts tonight.”

Parker had said for weeks she expected to avoid a runoff, and lately has acted the part, saying Monday she intended immediately to place controversial items before the City Council.

An ordinance targeting wage theft should be on the Nov. 13 agenda, she said, with a measure restricting payday and auto title lenders shortly to follow. Both items were discussed by council committees earlier this year before disappearing in favor of bland agendas during the campaign.

The council also should vote on a controversial item rewriting regulations for food trucks before year’s end, Parker said.

She said she also wants to pass a nondiscrimination ordinance similar to an item recently passed in San Antonio that prohibited bias against gay and transgender residents in city employment, contracting and appointments, and in housing and places of public accommodation.

Parker also has said she wants to expand curbside recycling service to every home in Houston, to finish an effort to reduce chronic homelessness, and to give Houston voters a chance to change the city’s term-limits structure, likely from three two-year terms to two four-year terms. She singled out homelessness and the Bayou Greenways initiative, a voter-approved effort to string trails along all the city’s bayous, Tuesday night.

Parker also has highlighted pending projects: the city is halfway through moving its crime lab from the Houston Police Department to an independent lab; voters’ narrow approval of a joint city-county inmate processing center on Tuesday will let the city shutter its two aging jails.

The mayor twice has failed to persuade the Texas Legislature to give her local negotiating authority with the city’s firefighter pension system; she will get another crack at it in 2015.

Another reform Parker said she wants to tackle is increasing water conservation in Houston, saying “we are one of the most profligate users of water of any city in Texas, and that has to change.”

A lot of this should be familiar. The wage theft ordinance was brought up in August to a skeptical Council committee, and the Mayor promised to bring it up on October 23. Payday lending is a to do items due to legislative inaction. The call for a more comprehensive non-discrimination ordinance was a recent addition that came in the wake of San Antonio passing its more muscular NDO. The crime lab and closure of the city jails are long-term projects that will move forward. It will be interesting to see where Council is on some of these, and it may be better for a couple of them to wait until the runoffs resolve themselves and bring them up next year. Finally, on the subject of water usage, there’s a lot we could do to affect that.

The one cautionary note I would strike is on term limits. You know how I feel about term limits, so I’m not going to go into that. My concern is that this necessarily means a change to the city charter, and that implies the possibility of a larger can of worms being opened. Which, maybe Mayor Parker would welcome, I don’t know. I personally have a hard time shaking the feeling that the goal of this exercise is to curtail the power of the Mayor one way or another – I have a hard time seeing us move to a City Manager form of government, but things like giving Council members the power to propose agenda items are in play. Which, again, may be something the Mayor wants to discuss, and even if it isn’t may be a good thing for the rest of us to talk about. I’ve said I’m open to the conversation, and I am. Doesn’t mean I’m not thinking about the possible ways it could go.

One more thing:

Parker said Tuesday she would not be a candidate for any office in 2016.

That was made in the context of speculation that the Mayor’s current agenda for Council might presage a run for statewide office. I don’t know what the Mayor’s plans are for life post-Mayorship, but I can say with a reasonable degree of confidence that of course she wouldn’t be a candidate for office in 2016. What office would she run for? The only statewide positions are Railroad Commissioner and judicial seats, and unless she wants to move out west and run against Steve Radack, the only county office that might fit would be Tax Assessor. The question to ask is whether she might be a candidate for office in 2018, and even I would have to admit that’s way too far off to really care about right now. Let’s see how these next two years go, and we’ll figure it out from there.

Can we get a charter review?

Council Member C.O. Bradford and HCC Trustee Carroll Robinson would like one.

HoustonSeal

Houston needs a Charter Review Commission to review, update and propose recommendations to the voters to modernize our charter, the structure and operations of city government, with specific attention paid to the budget process.

It might seem counterintuitive to call for appointment of a Charter Review Commission now, with municipal elections set for Nov. 5 and some faces likely to change on the City Council. We don’t think so. By appointing a Charter Review Commission in the next few weeks, the City Council can lift the process of improving and modernizing the operations of city government above politics.

A Charter Review Commission appointed now to make recommendations for the November 2014 ballot could not reasonably be perceived as an attack on any candidate currently seeking to serve as our city’s next mayor. The commission’s membership should be former city elected officials, academic and legal experts on Texas municipal governance, finance and infrastructure issues as well as local business leaders and entrepreneurs. No current elected city official or employee should be allowed to serve on the commission. The work of the commission should not be a political exercise.

As I’ve noted before, I’m pretty sure the next charter referendum cannot be until May of 2015, because two full years will not have passed between Election Day 2012 and Election Day 2014, but that’s a minor point. I’m happy to have the discussion – really, we should be having this same discussion at a national level, not that that will ever happen – though I don’t know how many of the suggested changes Bradford and Robinson include that I’d vote for. But sure, let’s talk about it, and if there’s enough support for this change or that, let’s vote on it. It’s our city, and just because we’ve always done something one way doesn’t mean we have to continue doing it that way.

Chron overview of District A

It must be getting close to the start of Election Season, because the first of the Chronicle’s local race overviews has been published.

CM Helena Brown

CM Helena Brown

Since winning a seat on the Houston City Council two years ago, Helena Brown has become known for regularly voting “no” on what many would consider routine spending items.

The 36-year-old tea party- inspired political activist says her voting record is a direct product of constituent will in her conservative-leaning District A, home to Spring Branch.

After all, District A was the first to oust a sitting incumbent in the nearly 20 years since the city implemented term limits, in part because Brown’s predecessor, Brenda Stardig, had cast a vote to set up a controversial, voter-approved drainage fee.

And yet, the list of District A candidates on this November’s ballot will be the longest it has been in years.

In addition to Brown and Stardig, 51, who is attempting to win back the seat she lost two years ago, the field includes Amy Peck, 28, district director for state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston; 55-year-old Houston Police Department officer-turned-author and consultant Mike Knox; and 32-year-old Ronald “Ray” Hale, who helps run his family’s residential and commercial security business.

[…]

Speaking earlier this month at a well-attended candidate forum hosted by one of the district’s many civic clubs, Knox told attendees, “If your City Council person votes ‘no’ all alone, then your voice is not being heard at City Hall.”

Peck, whose platform includes tighter budget controls, accused Brown of political grandstanding and said her approach has “definitely affected the district because she’s not working with other council members in a way where other council members, in turn, want to help her district.”

Stardig agrees: “We miss out on opportunities because if you don’t work with the administration, you don’t get your projects on the agenda.”

Brown, though, said her approach of “breaking the rubber stamp” has been highly effective, resulting in mutual respect among her council colleagues rather than alienation and loss.

“Those who feel that that’s ineffective are detached from reality because the reality is, if you become a rubber stamp on City Council, why even be there?” she said, pointing out that she votes “no” on up to 20 percent of items on any given agenda. “You’re not there to hold hands and sing ‘Kumbaya’ or anything like that. You’re there to go and be that representative and that will of the people, and it’s a very blessed opportunity.”

First of all, the claim that Stardig was the first sitting incumbent to be ousted under term limits is incorrect. The late Jean Kelley, elected in 1997 to succeed her husband John, was defeated in 1999 by Mark Ellis Bert Keller after serving one term. As for this year, I interviewed all five candidates for District A – you can find the interviews here – and I think the voters have some good choices. Mike Knox and Amy Peck are thoughtful and well-informed. Stardig is Stardig, and for what it’s worth I always thought she was a decent Council member. She had issues staying connected to her constituents, but she was always knowledgeable on the issues and made good votes. As for CM Brown, she came across better in her interview than I expected. I admittedly didn’t have very high expectations, but then I also viewed her as more of a caricature than a real person. I don’t agree with her philosophy, and I think her habitual No votes – which she downplayed somewhat in the interview – are pointless and harmful to her own interests, but she clearly believes in what she’s doing, and she makes a better case for herself than I thought she could. A year ago at this time, I’d have bet money that she’d lose re-election. I still think there’s a decent chance she’ll be a one-term Council member, even a non-zero chance she’ll fail to make a runoff. But she has grown as a public official, and can hold her own among some well-qualified opponents. I expected this race to be more entertaining than anything else, but it’s much more serious than I thought it would be, and as such it’s a much more interesting race.

Still no support for term limits

Fine by me.

Still no limits on corndogs

The full House, for the second time in eight years, drove a stake through the chance of imposing term limits on the governor and other statewide officeholders.

The proposed constitutional amendment that would have gone to voters was defeated 80-61 on Wednesday. The Senate had passed the proposed amendment last month 27-4.

Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, fought for the proposal saying that 36 other states had similar restrictions that allows fresh ideas and talent into the executive branch.

Larson invoked Rick Perry’s long tenure and pointed out that he has controlled state government through making every appointment in the state — the first governor to do so.

Perry has served more than 12 years in the top office and said he will announce in June whether he will seek a fourth full term as governor.

[…]

In addition to the governor and lieutenant governor, the bill would have limited the attorney general, comptroller, land commissioner, agriculture commissioner and secretary of state to two, consecutive four-year terms. The three members of the Railroad Commission would be subject to two, consecutive six-year terms.

The Senate last passed a term limit proposal in 1995, which would have restricted both statewide officials and lawmakers. But the resolution, which lacked the backing of then-House Speaker Pete Laney, died in committee without a full House vote.

See here for the background, and here for SJR13. Note that there were 80 votes against SJR13. It didn’t just lack sufficient support to qualify for the ballot, it couldn’t get a majority. I’m rather stunned by that, as I’m sure is Rice prof Mark Jones, who predicted smooth sailing for it in the House in that earlier story about it easily passing the Senate. Here’s the unofficial record vote; by my count, a small majority of Dems voted Yes, while a fairly large majority of Rs voted No. I suspect it may be awhile before we see another attempt to impose term limits. If the Rick Perry argument didn’t work, I don’t know what would.

Term limits measure approved by the Senate

Coming to your ballot this fall, barring anything strange.

Still no limits on corndogs

State­wide elected officials would be limited to two consecutive terms under a proposed constitutional amendment approved 27-4 by the Texas Senate on Tuesday.

Gov. Rick Perry, Texas’ longest serving governor, and other current officeholders would be “grandfathered” and allowed to seek two more terms if the limits were enacted.

Senate Joint Resolution 13 by Sen. Kevin Eltife would require Texas House approval by a two-thirds vote before being put on a statewide ballot. It would apply only to the state’s executive branch.

Eltife, R-Tyler, said his proposal does not stem from concern about any current officeholder, including Perry, but is meant as a way to bring a fresh perspective to government.

“No way, shape or form it has anything to do with Rick Perry,” Eltife insisted. “I just think government is better served with term limits.”

[…]

[Rice University political science professor Mark] Jones said he expects the bill to have a “pretty good chance” in the House.

“The only way that it probably doesn’t survive is if the House leadership decides to bottle it up in committee and not allow it to make it to the floor,” Jones said, adding that he is not aware of any such intentions by House leaders.

“Once it gets to the ballot, it’s close to a virtual certainty that it will be approved,” Jones said. “The ‘yes’ campaign is an easy campaign. They just have to campaign against politicians and claim term limits prevent entrenched career politicians.”

Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, spoke against the measure, declaring it improper to single out only the executive branch.

“We already have term limits. It’s called the ballot box,” Estes said. With SJR 13, “We’re basically saying to the people of Texas that they’re not responsible or well-informed enough to make the best decisions for themselves.”

As you know, I am not a fan of term limits, so I agree with Sen. Estes on this. I also agree with Mark Jones that this is pretty much a slam dunk. I’ll vote against it, just as I voted against the Houston term limits ordinance back in the 90s, but I expect the referendum to pass easily, with more than 70% of the vote. It’s a bad idea, but it could be worse. At least it’s limited to statewide executive offices and does not include legislators themselves, who have not needed term limits to have plenty of turnover this past decade. Stace, who’s with me and with whom I agree that term limits for appointed officials (which is included in Sen. Eltife’s joint resolution) is a good idea, BOR, Texas Redistricting, and Juanita have more.

Pushing back on Perry

I don’t really believe that Rick Perry is running for President again, and if he is I don’t expect he’ll be taken very seriously. I’m not even sure if he’s running for Governor again. But if he does run for something, or more than one something, in the future, I hope stories like this are a big part of the narrative about him and his candidacy.

No anti-corndog bills were filed this session

For the last decade, Perry has enjoyed a GOP-controlled Legislature that largely has shared his philosophy and helped his agenda. They’ve backed his appointments, given him key authority over $800 million in economic development funds and adopted his budget-cutting dictates.

But this year, an unusual coalition of conservative, anti-establishment legislators has combined with reform-minded Democrats. It has given momentum to more than a half-dozen initiatives that, if not aimed directly at Perry, certainly have been inspired by him.

“I hope people would say, regardless of who the governor is, we need to correct improprieties,” said Rep. Chris Turner, D-Arlington.

A list of bills filed that would curtail others from doing what Perry has done:

Taxpayers can’t be charged for elected officials’ out-of-state security costs if the travel is purely for personal or political reasons. (House Bill 160)

State officeholders cannot draw pension benefits on top of their salary while still holding office. (HB 413)

Statewide officeholders would be limited to two terms in office. (House Joint Resolution 42 and Senate Joint Resolution 13)

Legislators and statewide officeholders who announce their candidacy for another job must resign their posts if there is less than 13 months left in their term. (HJR 73)

University regents appointed by the governor can’t vote until the Senate confirms them. (Senate Bill 15)

Other than the term limits resolutions, I think all of them are good ideas on their own merits. There’s a lot of bipartisan support for most of these measures as well. It’s all still a pretty small thing, especially if none of these measures passes out of the Legislature, but consider Rick Perry’s temperature to have been taken regardless.

A first look at the 2013 elections

It is 2013, right? So while we have the SD06 special election and the new legislative session to worry about, it’s not too early to start talking about the 2013 elections. Let’s start with a peek at the campaign finance reports from last July of the Houston officeholders who will be on the ballot this November:

Dist Name Cash on hand ================================= Myr Parker 1,281,657 Ctrl R Green 9,983 AL 1 Costello 57,345 AL 2 Burks 3,160 AL 4 Bradford 20,590 AL 5 Christie 14,535 A Brown 22,641 B Davis 64,211 C Cohen 45,597 F Hoang 6,429 G Pennington 119,951 H Gonzalez 57,899 J Laster 31,816 K L Green 9,107

I omitted the three Council members who are term-limited out (Melissa Noriega, Wanda Adams, and James Rodriguez), as well as newly-elected Dave Martin, since his July report would not be relevant. Normally there would have been five open seats this year, but with Mike Sullivan stepping down due to his successful candidacy for Tax Assessor and Jolanda Jones losing in 2011, there are only three vacancies, and as such there will likely be a stampede for those seats. But we’ll get to that in a minute. Let’s take a closer look at where the non-term limited incumbents are.

Mayor

As we know, Mayor Parker will probably by challenged by former City Attorney Ben Hall, will possibly be challenged by her former Housing Director James Noteware, may possibly be challenged by some yet unknown candidate or candidates, and will certainly have a few fringe challengers as well. It could be quite the crowded race at the top of the ticket. While Hall would certainly be a more serious opponent in terms of money, resume, and presumed base of support than the 2011 hopefuls were, with Noteware and the others also possibly having more juice, I have believed for some time now that Parker starts out in a stronger position this year than she was in two years ago. The much-improved economy and real estate market mean that the city’s budget is far healthier than it was, which means the Mayor can do positive things rather than negative things like layoffs and service reductions. Distractions like red light cameras and Renew Houston are in the past, while the overwhelming passage of the city’s bond referenda gives the Mayor some wind at her back and a nice accomplishment with which to begin the year. Anything can happen, and we’ll see who if anyone else emerges to run against her, but I believe we will look back and say that 2011 was the better chance to beat her.

How would one go about defeating Mayor Parker if one were inclined to do so? The conventional wisdom is to aim to replicate the 1991 campaign, in which State Rep. Sylvester Turner and eventual winner Bob Lanier squeezed then-Mayor Kathy Whitmire into a third place finish. This is the vaunted “pincer strategy”, combining African-Americans and Republicans to shrink the remaining voter pool for the white Democratic lady Mayor. I’m skeptical of this. For one thing, Whitmire – who garnered an incredibly low 20% of the vote in that election – was running for her sixth term in those pre-term limits days, at a time when the term limits movement was gaining steam. There was a strong case for change, or at least there was a more restless electorate that was going through an economic downturn that year. Whitmire was also coming off a bruising defeat, as her $1.2 billion monorail proposal was killed by Metro’s board chairman, who was none other than Bob Lanier. Lanier promised to spend that money on roads, which was much more popular. There isn’t an issue right now that could be used as a cudgel against Parker, which makes the argument to fire her that much more challenging.

Which isn’t to say there aren’t issues to be used against Parker, but they’re not issues that I think are likely to be used effectively by an establishment insider like Hall, or any Republican who may file. Given that Hall is who he is, I think a more potent strategy would be to pair him with an outspoken liberal, who can compete with Parker’s base voters in District C by attacking her for things like the homeless feeding ordinance, the lack of any effort to advance equality in Houston, and the Metro referendum if one believes the University Line is mortally wounded. Quantifying the irony of Whitmire losing for promoting a rail plan, and Parker losing for being perceived as insufficiently supportive of rail, is left as an exercise for the reader.

And as long as I’m giving out advice, my suggestion to Team Annise is to work on building its ground game and seeking to increase turnout. There were 160K ballots cast in the 2009 runoff, but only 123K in 2011. Neither of these are particularly high totals for a city election – indeed, the 2011 total failed to reach the puny 125K ballots cast in the sleepy 2007 election. There are plenty of people who have voted in city elections, certainly as recently as 2003, but haven’t done so in the past few cycles. I rather doubt that Parker versus Hall et al is likely on its own to draw any more voters than Parker/Locke/Brown/Morales did in 2009 (181K, in case you’re curious), but there’s no reason Parker shouldn’t be working to identify and bring out voters who have a less consistent history of voting in city elections. I think that offers a better path to 50% plus one than another dreary exercise in talking to only the same old hardcore voters. You know, like me. She has plenty of money, she’ll have plenty more after the curtain comes up on fundraising season. Target a bigger universe, I say.

Controller

I’m wondering if Ronald Green has a typo in his finance report. He reported $46K on hand last January, then his July report showed that he raised $26K and spent $13K, so I have no idea he could have had only $9,983 on hand. I guess we’ll see what this January’s report says. Beyond that, not much to see here. He’s still not a big fundraiser, and he still has no credible announced opposition despite his recent negative press.

Council At Large

Is it just me, or are those some anemic cash on hand totals? Six out of eight district Council members have larger campaign treasuries than three of the four At Large members. Bradford often reports a lot of in kind contributions – he has listed some things we might normally think of as expenditures as in kind contributions – which tends to reduce his COH figure. Burks, who raised $35K but had $34K in expenses, paid off a number of debts, including the $10K loan from his wife and two items dating from the 2009 campaign that totaled $4650. Christie also spent nearly as much as he raised – $66K raised, $63K in expenditures. This included $45K for “printing”, which I presume was a deferred expense from his runoff campaign.

As was the case in 2011, there’s only one open At Large seat, At Large #3, so once again I expect a cattle call in that race. I know Jenifer Pool, who ran in At Large #2 in 2011, is in for AL3 this year, and other names will surely emerge in the next few weeks. I have to think that it would be worthwhile for a Council wannabe who might be concerned about getting lost in that shuffle to consider taking on one of the incumbents instead, specifically Burks or Christie. Burks’ winning campaign in 2011 after however many previous tries was, to put it gently, atypical. The only policy item I can recall that he originated last year was a proposal to revamp Houston’s term limits ordinance, which never made it out of committee. He also drew scorn for suggesting that the propane tanks used by food trucks might potentially be used as weapons by terrorists. He doesn’t have much money, doesn’t have a history of fundraising, has generally run do-it-yourself campaigns, and his main asset is the name recognition that a dozen or more previous campaigns has earned him. You can make a similar case for Christie, who made an interesting proposal relating to shelters for homeless people that as far as I know went nowhere and who also said silly things during the food truck debate. Unlike Burks, Christie has been and should continue to be a good fundraiser, but also unlike Burks he has no natural constituency – he’s a moderate Republican who isn’t beloved by county GOP insiders. His win in 2011 could also reasonably be described as out of the ordinary. I’m not saying either would be easy to beat this year, I’m not even saying someone should run against them. I’m just suggesting that a multi-candidate open seat race where getting to the runoff is more crapshoot than anything else doesn’t necessarily offer the best odds of being sworn in next January.

District Council

Just so you know, former Council Member Brenda Stardig reported $26,574 on hand in July. If she aims for a rematch with Helena Brown, she starts out at parity in the money department. I’m not sure what’s up with CMs Hoang and Green, but I don’t expect either of them to have much difficulty this year. Everyone will be watching District A, probably even more than the two open seats, but I’d keep an eye on Jerry Davis in District B as well. Davis has worked hard, but doesn’t appear to have won over the insiders in the district, being a new resident of B himself. It would not shock me if he gets a serious opponent. Beyond that, Dwight Boykins appears to be in for the open seat in District D, and while other names will soon emerge we may have to get a judge’s opinion about whether Jolanda Jones can be among them. There are already two candidates for District I; if history holds, there likely won’t be too many more.

HISD and HCC

It’s a bit confusing because the County Clerk webpage doesn’t track uncontested Trustee races, but I’m pretty sure that the following people are up for election:

For HISD Trustee: Mike Lunceford, Anna Eastman, Greg Meyers, Lawrence Marshall, and Harvin Moore. Lunceford and Eastman are finishing their first terms; Moore and Meyers were unopposed in 2009; Marshall won in a runoff. I have not heard anything so far to indicate that any of them are not running for re-election. If Anna Eastman runs for and wins re-election she will be the first Trustee in District I to do so since at least 1997 – I can’t check any farther back than that. Gabe Vasquez was elected that year, followed by Karla Cisneros in 2001, Natasha Kamrani in 2005, and Eastman in 2009.

For HCC Trustee: Mary Ann Perez’s election to the Lege in HD144 means there will be a vacancy in HCC Trustee District III. The Board has appointed former Trustee Herlinda Garcia to replace her. Garcia, about whom you can learn more here, will need to run in a special election to be able to serve the remainder of Perez’s term, which expires in 2015. The three Trustees whose terms are up this year are Bruce Austin, Neeta Sane, whose district includes a piece of Fort Bend County, and Yolanda Navarro Flores. It’s fair to say that Trustee Navarro Flores’ current term in office has been rather eventful. She won a close race last time, and if she runs again I would expect her to get a strong challenger. Sane is completing her first term, while Austin, the longest-serving Trustee, was first elected in 1989. I am pleased to note that this year the Trustee candidates’ campaign finance statements are now available online. Sometimes, a little bitching and moaning goes a long way.

That’s all I’ve got for now. January finance reports are due next week, and a few will probably trickle in early. I’ll keep an eye out and will post a report when they’re all up, or at least at some point after they’re all supposed to be when I’ve run out of patience waiting for them. I’ll throw in the reports for County officeholders who are up in 2014 as well, just because. Please add your own speculation and rumormongering about who is or isn’t running for what in the comments.

The Lege does not need term limits

It’s a silly idea, and no time should be wasted on it.

Rep. Lyle Larson

State Rep. Lyle Larson has filed a proposal to let Texans vote on whether to limit to 12 years the time state officials may serve in one position.

“I’m a big believer that it’s good to have fresh blood and turnover in government,” said Larson, R-San Antonio. “I think it would be healthy to have new, fresh perspectives periodically.”

[…]

“Twelve years is a long time,” Larson said. “After that, we probably ought to get someone else in the office.”

Not everyone agrees.

“There’s no good that comes with term limits,” said Bill Miller, an Austin political consultant who works with Republicans and Democrats. “Term limits was a fad … that has proven to not work very well.

“It takes away competition … and destroys institutional knowledge,” he said. “I think term limits is one of the worst ideas in politics.”

Supporters say limits can help stimulate new approaches to solving government issues and prevent abuse of power from one person holding an office too long. Opponents say there’s no need for them because voters can remove someone from office in any election.

Larson filed House Joint Resolution 42 to put 12-year limits on all elected officials in government. If at least two-thirds of state legislators next year support the proposal, Texans would vote Nov. 5 on a constitutional amendment addressing term limits.

“I know some people say you don’t need term limits because you can vote people out of office,” Larson said. “But the reality is that most incumbents get re-elected unless they mess something up.”

I’ll stipulate that the top of Texas’ government is cluttered with people who need to move on, or be moved out, but the Lege is a different story. Here’s a complete list of all legislators who won elections in 2002, and would therefore be on their last term if Rep. Larson’s bill were already law. First, the Senate:

SD02 – Bob Deuell
SD04 – Tommy Williams
SD09 – Chris Harris
SD12 – Jane Nelson
SD13 – Rodney Ellis
SD15 – John Whitmire
SD16 – John Carona
SD20 – Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa
SD21 – Judith Zaffirini
SD23 – Royce West
SD24 – Troy Fraser
SD26 – Leticia Van De Putte
SD27 – Eddie Lucio, Jr.
SD28 – Robert Duncan
SD30 – Craig Estes

Fifteen Senators out of 31, or just less than half, would be on their way out after this session. Given that Senators only come up for a vote three times in a given decade, and given how safe their seats are, that’s a fair bit of turnover. Admittedly, most of it is voluntary – Kim Brimer, Frank Madla, and Jeff Wentworth are the only ones who lost elections during that time; the others retired or made successful (Todd Staples) or unsuccessful (Mike Jackson) runs at higher office. Still, that’s a decent bit of churn, and it’s nothing compared to the House. Here’s that full list:

HD02 – Dan Flynn
HD05 – Bryan Hughes
HD08 – Byron Cook
HD10 – Jim Pitts
HD13 – Lois Kolkhorst
HD21 – Allan Ritter
HD22 – Joe Deshotel
HD23 – Craig Eiland
HD30 – Geanie Morrison
HD31 – Ryan Guillen
HD37 – Rene Oliveira
HD42 – Richard Raymond
HD46 – Dawnna Dukes
HD49 – Elliott Naishtat
HD51 – Eddie Rodriguez
HD53 – Harvey Hilderbran
HD60 – Jim Keffer
HD61 – Phil King
HD64 – Myra Crownover
HD79 – Joe Pickett
HD82 – Tom Craddick
HD89 – Jodie Laubenberg
HD90 – Lon Burnam
HD99 – Charlie Geren
HD104 – Roberto Alonzo
HD105 – Linda Harper-Brown
HD108 – Dan Branch
HD109 – Helen Giddings
HD111 – Yvonne Davis
HD116 – Trey Martinez-Fischer
HD120 – Ruth Jones McClendon
HD123 – Mike Villarreal
HD124 – Jose Menendez
HD128 – Wayne Smith
HD129 – John Davis
HD132 – Bill Callegari
HD135 – Gary Elkins
HD139 – Sylvester Turner
HD141 – Senfronia Thompson
HD142 – Harold Dutton
HD147 – Garnet Coleman
HD148 – Jessica Farrar
HD150 – Debbie Riddle

Forty-three out of 150 members in the House would be facing term limits this time around. Putting it another way, 107 members, or 71.3%, are between their first and fifth terms. If that’s not a lot of fresh blood, I don’t know what would qualify. I estimate that 44 of the members who were elected in 2002 were subsequently defeated in either a primary or general election (Bill Zedler was defeated in 2008, then retook his seat in 2010), which again would seem to suggest there’s more to it than just the occasional screwup getting tossed. The rest left for the usual reasons – retirement, redistricting, higher office, problems with the law (Kino Flores) and in three cases, death (Glenda Dawson, Ed Kuempel, and Joe Moreno). Be that as it may, the number of fresh faces far exceeds that of the grizzled ones. Why do we need term limits when nature and the voters are doing a pretty darned good job of turnover by themselves?

A third act for Jolanda?

Maybe.

CM Jolanda Jones

Jolanda Jones, who lost her at-large position 5 seat in last December’s runoff election, may run in next year’s elections to win a third term on Council — but this time it would be representing District D.

The seat will be open next year because Councilwoman Wanda Adams is termed out.

“I’m keeping my options open,” Jones said Friday when asked if she is running for District D, which extends south of downtown. She lives in the district and her family goes way back in the district, she said.

Jones would have one more obstacle than any other candidate who files for District D: The city attorney says she can’t do it.

Term limits call for a maximum of three two-year terms on Council. However, city law also states: “No person, who has already served two full terms, shall be eligible to file for that same office.”

City Attorney David Feldman opined last year that this precludes people from a non-consecutive third term. Peter Brown resigned in 2009 just days before the end of his second term in attempt to circumvent the prohibition and remain eligible for a third term. It didn’t pass muster with Feldman.

Nor would Jones moving from At-Large 5 to District D, Feldman said in an email Friday, “since a council member is a council member is a council member.”

Jones said simply, “Feldman’s been wrong before.”

I am, of course, Not A Lawyer. So, I’d like for someone who is a lawyer to explain to me the difference between Jolanda Jones and former Council Member Mark Ellis. Ellis was elected as Council Member in District F in 1999, re-elected in 2001, then after serving two full terms ran for and was elected to At Large #1 in 2003. The ordinance in question doesn’t have anything more to it than what was quoted, so I don’t know what else to say. Why Ellis and not Jones or Brown? I welcome your feedback on this.

The 2013 campaign season has officially begun

Sort of, anyway. Some of us received this email in our inboxes recently, touting the virtues of former Bill White chief of staff Terence Fontaine as a candidate for District D; incumbent Wanda Adams is term-limited out next year. I don’t know Mr. Fontaine and I don’t have any opinions on who might or should run in District D next year. I’m not going to think about the 2013 elections until the 2012 elections are safely in the past. But I do always wonder if emails like these really are coming from an organized group – “We are teachers, lawyers, community activists and business owners” this one proclaims – or a single individual, most likely a political consultant looking for an opportunity. In either case, what I really want to know is why are you using MailChimp? Did we learn nothing from the earlier unpleasantness? Seriously. Anyway, though Fontaine is not a declared candidate yet, he is the first named potential candidate for the open D seat. I’m sure we’ll be hearing more soon. Just, please, no sooner than November 7.

No term limits referendum this fall

Much as I dislike our silly term limits ordinance, I think this is the correct term of action.

CM Andrew Burks

A City Council committee on Monday killed a proposal to ask voters whether to give the mayor, controller and council members up to 12 years in office. They currently are limited to six.

Councilman Andrew Burks, whose budget amendment last month sent the issue to the council’s ethics and governance committee, first tried to build a case for longer terms on its merits. He argued that it would save money in avoided election costs, attract better candidates, encourage more long-term thinking, shift officials’ focus from fundraising to public policy and reduce the use of council positions as stepping stones to other offices.

Virtually every member of the committee told Burks the proposal was the wrong idea at the wrong time and voted 9-1 to put it to rest. Even Burks, who was elected in December on his 13th try for public office, voted with the majority. Only new District K Councilman Larry Green voted against spiking the proposal.

“I think that we need to revisit the three two-year terms. I think that the cost associated with it is a challenge, not only for the city, but also is a (fundraising) challenge for the candidates,” Green said.

District I Councilman James Rodriguez said any move to change term limits should come from the citizenry.

“I haven’t seen a groundswell of support for changing term limits, especially in my district, and I think they’d like us to get back to the business of running and managing this city,” he said.

While I don’t think it’s necessarily the case that a move to change term limits must come from the grassroots, I agree that there’s no real desire among voters for it to be changed right now. Recent polling data, referenced in a Houston Politics post, suggests the term limits ordinance is popular as it is. I think it’s highly unlikely that a referendum to modify this ordinance would succeed without a long campaign to discuss why it needs to be changed and why an alternative system would serve the city better. The latter half of a highly contentious Presidential election year is not a propitious time to start such a campaign even if the resources existed for it. As was the case in San Antonio, where Mayor Phil Hardberger successfully pushed to have their term limits ordinance changed, I believe that a campaign to do the same here could be initiated and led by a high profile individual like a current or former Mayor. While neither Mayors Parker nor White are supporters of the term limits ordinance, they have not shown any inclination to lead the charge here, and beyond them I don’t see any obvious candidates for the task. I appreciate CM Burks’ efforts, though I would advise him to not take the defeat so personally, but the time isn’t right and there’s no point in putting something on the ballot that’s going to lose. Campos has more.