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February 1st, 2002:

Covering Houston, take two

Salon tries again to capture Houston’s mood in the post-Enron collapse. While this article is a lot closer to reality than their cringe-worthy first attempt, it still felt off to me.

I don’t deny that the free-market deregulation worship that Katharine Mieszkowski describes exists, and is even rather prevalent. Houston is indeed the land of no zoning and free-for-all suburban sprawl. Houston is also a very big place with a large and diverse population. As such, anyone who tries to capture its essence in a four-page article is going to make a bunch of sweeping generalizations about it that are going to be flat wrong for a lot of its residents.

I grew up in Staten Island, New York. Staten Island is a part of New York City, but its small size (compared to the other boroughs), relative isolation, and suburban feel make it a very different place. I often got annoyed when I’d hear someone say something or other was “quintessential New York” or “definitive New York” because they were seldom describing anything resembling my reality. To put it another way, New York is as much The King of Queens, Crooklyn , and Working Girl as it is Seinfeld and Sex and the City.

It’s the same sort of thing in Houston. We have snooty old money (River Oaks) and snooty new money (Memorial), too cool (and expensive) for you downtown lofts, gentrifying neartown neighborhoods like the Heights and Montrose that are struggling to retain aspects of their past identities as hippie and gay areas, a large variety of ethnic and minority enclaves, the more rural areas down south and out east near the refineries, and on and on. In addition, a lot of us here now weren’t here during the 80s boom and bust, myself included. I’m sure it makes for a boring story, but if author Mieszkowski had looked, she’d have found a bunch of people with no memory of or interest in the psychological baggage she talks about.

UPDATE: This time Ginger was harsher than I was. That’s two Premium subscribers you’ve pissed off, Salon. We deserve better.

Give me options

An interesting opinion piece on the nature of alternative political parties and restricted ballot access. The writer, a Libertarian, makes the case that freer access to ballots would not necessarily weaken the traditional parties:

Mark Rutherford, chairman of the Indiana Libertarian Party, offered another angle. “If the Democrats want to weaken the efforts of the Green Party in Indiana, in a perverse way, easier ballot access might do that. It will cause Greens to focus less on statewide organization, and more on candidates, which will splinter their efforts and effectiveness.” He pointed out that tough ballot access rules have actually helped organize and motivate the Libertarians, who have more elected officeholders than all the other alternative parties combined.

Rutherford was quick to add a counterpoint: “The more names on the ballots, the more issues are raised; and all the candidates then become more focused to the needs and desires of the voters. This is good for the astute Democrat and Republican who picks this up, and steals the issue from the Libertarian.”

I’ve generally been agnostic on this issue, as I find that alternative parties tend to be fringe and single-issue types who are boring at best, but I think he’s on to something. It’s certainly the case that reasonable ballot access laws are in line with the spirit of our democracy. Call me a convert on this issue.

Score one against term limits

The state of Idaho has repealed its term limits law, becoming the first state to do so. I’m genuinely shocked that the mostly Republican state legislature did so over the veto of the Republican governor. Term limits were a rallying cry for the GOP in 1994, so to say the least the party has made quite a turnaround. Of course, the issue does lose some luster when it’s your guys who are in office, but still.

We all know the arguments against term limits. Here’s one that hadn’t really occurred to me before:

Party leaders say […] term limits take away critical experience from government, especially in rural areas where many small towns have struggled to fill local offices.

Whatever the reason, I’m glad they did it. I hope this encourages local leaders to push for a repeal of Houston’s moronic term limits law.