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July 1st, 2014:

Mayor Parker discusses her possible political future again

After making a rousing speech at the TDP convention, Mayor Annise Parker talked about some possible paths she could take for a future statewide campaign.

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

Parker said she would be interested in running for any number of statewide positions when her third and final two-year term is up in 2016 – even Texas’ top job.

“I would absolutely consider a statewide ballot effort for the right seat,” Parker told the Houston Chronicle, adding that she doesn’t have an exact plan drawn up at this time. “And as the CEO of the 4th largest city in America, I could be the governor of Texas.”.

The 58-year-old said she would be “eminently qualified” to be comptroller of public accounts, Texas land commissioner or sit on the three-member Texas Railroad Commission.

The only jobs for which she isn’t interested? Lieutenant governor and U.S. Congress. “Respectfully to members of Congress, I’m the CEO of a $5 billion corporation, and I make decisions every day. I don’t want to go talk about things. I want to do things.”

I’ve discussed this before, and I’m mostly not surprised by Parker’s words. The one office I hadn’t foreseen as a possibility was Land Commissioner, but between veterans’ issues and the leases that the GLO manages and grants on occasionally urban land, it makes sense. And of course the Railroad Commission is all about oil and gas regulation, and Mayor Parker spent 20 years in the oil business before entering politics. Other than the RRC, which has six-year terms for its three Commissioners, the candidacy of Mayor Parker or anyone else for these offices is contingent on them not being won by a Democrat this year. As awesome as that would be, it would throw a wrench into the works for the large number of potential up-and-comers now waiting in the wings.

For her part, Parker is watching the political trajectories of two other Houston women: state Sen. Sylvia Garcia and state Rep. Carol Alvarado. A fellow former mayor who now sits in the state Senate, Kirk Watson, is also on her list of rising stars, as are Mayor Julian Castro and U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro.

The twin brothers from San Antonio are widely accepted to become the default face of the party after this year’s statewide election. Speaking to the Chronicle after his speech in a packed convention hall Friday evening, the congressman would not preview where his political trajectory might lie.

“I’ll look at all opportunities where I can be most helpful,” said Joaquin Castro. He added he hasn’t yet decided whether he might run for another office, such as U.S. Senate. Some see him as a natural foil to Ted Cruz, R-Texas.

His brother, tapped by President Barack Obama to be the next housing secretary, is also considered one of the most viable statewide or national candidates from the party, although some worry whether his political standing will suffer at the hands of Republicans in Washington as so many other cabinet secretaries have in recent years.

Representing Texas in Washington, U.S. Reps. Marc Veasey and Pete Gallego repeatedly made the “best of” lists of many state party leaders this weekend.

In Dallas, state Rep. Rafael Anchia and Sen. Royce West are ones to watch, they said, while Sylvester Turner is another prominent Houstonian with political potential.

I’ve discussed the bench and the possible next step for a variety of Dems before. One person who isn’t mentioned in this story but should be is State Rep. Mike Villarreal of San Antonio, who has been previously mentioned as a candidate for Comptroller and who has announced his intent to run for Mayor of San Antonio in 2015. Winning that would move him up a notch on the “rising stars” list as he’d be a Mayor with legislative experience; you can add Rep. Sylvester Turner to that list if his third try for Mayor of Houston is the charm in 2015, too.

Besides the RRC, there is one prize that will remain on the board for 2018 regardless of what happens this year.

“It’s very different to run for statewide office unless you have statewide name recognition,” said [TCU poli sci prof James] Riddlesperger, who said the sheer amount of money statewide candidates in Texas are forced to raise to be viable pushes some out of the race before they can get started.

“It’s not like doing it in New Hampshire or South Dakota. We have six or seven major media markets and it’s enormously expensive to get statewide recognition,” said Riddlesperger. Keeping this in mind, he said the Democrats should keep a close eye on who could unseat Cruz in 2018.

“I suspect there would be a huge amount of national money that could potentially flow into that election,” he said.

Indeed. I mean, the amount spent in the 2018 re-election campaign for Ted Cruz on all sides will likely rival the GDP of several small nations. The story suggests US Rep. Joaquin Castro as the very-early-to-be-leading choice to take on Cruz, but I suspect we will hear a lot of other voices before all is said and done, whether or not there are fewer incumbent Republicans to oppose at that time. I don’t want to spend too much time thinking about this since we have some pretty damn important elections to focus on this year, but file that all away for future consideration.

A lesser overpass

I’m not very happy with this.

A City Council delay in contributing funds for a contentious East End overpass will likely lead Metro back to build a span only for its light rail line and not drivers, and without some of the attributes transit officials and some nearby residents said they wanted.

[…]

The delay in receiving $10 million from the city could have a detrimental effect on whatever is built, as Metro presses ahead. Final agreement between the city and Metro regarding the money Houston committed to an underpass or overpass missed a Monday deadline set by Metro, sparking another spat between transit and city officials.

At the same time Wednesday that City Council members were delaying their commitment, Metro’s board was approving a design contract for the overpass. Transit officials are also planning the first public meeting about the overpass design on Tuesday.

The goal was to develop an overpass with traffic lanes, and add features like murals and amenities to make the overpass more palatable, not just a concrete overpass for the light rail line. All of that is now moot, as the city delays and Metro moves ahead, Metro chairman Gilbert Garcia said.

[…]

When Metro moved forward, the decision angered Houston Councilman Robert Gallegos, who asked last week for a delay in handing $10 million over to Metro for the project.

That delay stretched from one week to two because of the upcoming July 4 holiday, and then to 30 days at the suggestion of Mayor Annise Parker, who said she was just hearing about some of Gallegos’ concerns.

Gallegos said he wants to research the level of contamination, whether it should be cleaned up and what can be designed that will protect the community.

“It is not about pushing for an underpass at this point,” Gallegos’ chief of staff, Danial Santamaria, said. “It is concern about the contaminants.”

Metro officially approved the overpass plan in late May. I understand why they want to move forward already, but it’s not clear to me why a relatively small amount of money like that $10 million should have such a large effect on the final design. Surely there must be some way that sum can be covered even if the city backs out of the original agreement, which was made with the understanding that Metro would build an underpass. Given that the underpass option is off the table at this point, I feel strongly that every effort should be made to make the overpass as palatable to the East End residents as possible. Let’s not mess this up over a small sum of money.

What do the Mayors want?

Action on climate change.

The U.S. Conference of Mayors, a bipartisan group that represents the leaders of 1,400 cities, each of which is home to at least 30,000 people, has called on the Obama administration and Congress to “enact an Emergency Climate Protection law that provides a framework and funding for the implementation … of a comprehensive national plan” to reduce greenhouse gas pollution.

If members of Congress understood the urgency of climate change as well as the nation’s mayors do, we might not be in as much of a screwed-up climate situation as we are in today.

The resolution, which was approved by delegates during four days of meetings in Dallas, expresses strong support for the EPA’s draft rules on power-plant pollution. It also calls on Congress to hurry up and extend renewable energy tax credits.

Another resolution approved by the group endorses the establishment of Obama’s proposed $1 billion climate-adaptation fund.

“[R]esiliency efforts, especially those regarding water and wastewater, not only save lives and taxpayer dollars but also play a key role in preparing cities for the challenges they face from these events,” the adaptation-related resolution stated. “[C]ities currently face several barriers to properly planning and implementing resiliency efforts, including funding and financing challenges, insufficient permitting and regulatory flexibility, a shortage of data and modeling information, and a lack of communication and partnership among communities.”

[…]

Another resolution approved on Monday “encourages” the group’s members to “prioritize natural infrastructure,” such as parks, marshes, and estuaries, to help protect freshwater supplies, defend the nation’s coastlines, and protect air quality amid worsening floods, droughts, storms, and wildfires.

Laura Tam, the sustainable development policy director at San Francisco-based urban affairs think tank SPUR, described that resolution as a “statement that de-polarizes climate adaptation.” After all, Tam told Grist, “Who can argue with the premise of encouraging cities to protect waters, coasts, plant trees and improve air quality?”

A higher federal minimum wage.

Mike Rawlings oversaw many minimum-wage workers as top executive at Pizza Hut.

Now, as the mayor of Dallas, he’s trying to determine what a living wage is for city residents and city contract workers.

The minimum wage debate has taken center stage as leaders of cities big and small across the country look for ways to help fix growing income inequality.

“The biggest problem in America … is income disparity, and we see it in Dallas,” Rawlings said. He and other mayors have suffered state and federal budget cuts, watched residents’ household incomes decline or flatten and seen many new jobs concentrated in low-paying fields.

As a proposal to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour languishes in Congress, cities and states are taking matters into their own hands, creating a patchwork of minimum-wage rates across the country.

At the U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting in Dallas on Monday, a majority of mayors voted to adopt a resolution to raise the federal minimum wage, sending a message to congressional leaders about how serious the issue is.

Voting has not concluded, and Rawlings said that he was going to vote for the resolution.

“It’s healthier for our economy, neighborhoods and businesses to have a living wage,” he said. “The economy has been stagnant because the lower end doesn’t have disposable income to spend.”

Marriage equality.

[Monday], June 23, at its annual conference in Dallas, the U.S. Conference of Mayors overwhelmingly passed a resolution calling on federal courts, including the Supreme Court, to expeditiously bring an end to marriage discrimination against gay couples nationwide.

Dozens of mayors, including many from states that still restrict marriage to different-sex couples, including Arizona, Texas, Ohio, Colorado, Missouri, and Georgia, were among those who led passage of the resolution.

The resolution, which passed by voice vote, states: “The United States Conference of Mayors reaffirms its support of the freedom to marry for same-sex couples and urges the federal courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, to speedily bring national resolution by ruling in favor of the freedom to marry nationwide.”

The text of that resolution is here. When would the Mayors like these things? Now would be nice.

Bill King gets on the reimagining bus

I’ve made plenty of sport about Chron columnist Bill King’s failure to acknowledge Metro’s proposed new bus routes despite his longstanding argument that Metro should be prioritizing bus service over light rail, so it’s only fair that I acknowledge that he has finally gotten into the game.

I recently read somewhere that Metro’s prescient critics were blasting Metro’s Reimagining campaign as a plot to reduce the bus service so that Metro could save money.

The Reimagining campaign is looking at ways to schedule and route buses so that service would be more frequent and more predictable. Both are important factors in building ridership. If you have to wait too long or cannot depend on a bus showing up when it is scheduled, you are likely to look for another way to go.

The draft plan calls for less service in some areas, but an increase in frequency in higher-volume areas should more than make up for any lost volume from low-ridership areas.

Of course, any cutback of service to a particular area is going to bring howls of protest from those neighborhoods, and the politicos may force Metro to back off from some of the changes it has planned.

But from a pure “get the most out of the system” standard, this is exactly what you would expect and want Metro to be doing.

Frankly, I am having a hard time understanding the criticism. If you look through the work that has been done on the plan, it is incredibly detailed and appears to have been undertaken in a logical fashion. The complexity of some of the analysis is above my transit pay grade, but other transit buffs I respect, such as Tory Gattis of Houston Strategies, have given the draft plan high initial marks.

[…]

Metro showed a modest but significant uptick in bus ridership last year.

Further, I see nothing in the works that has been done on the Reimagining campaign that smacks of any dissembling.

I take it at face value that it is an honest attempt by the board and management of Metro to react to the steady decline in bus ridership over the last decade.

I would have preferred if they had started the process a little sooner, but hey, better late than never.

Of course, no one knows how well the plan will work, or if it will work at all. But all we can do is try to improve the service, making adjustments as we go.

And I don’t see how continuing to beat up Metro, when they are doing what many of us have advocated for years, advances the ball.

If someone has specific criticisms of the plan details, that is fair game. But condemning the attempt is not.

See here, here, and here. The proposal was unveiled on May 8, almost two months ago, during which time King has written approximately 173 columns on pensions and partisanship, but hey, better late than never. King’s lamentation that some of his allies in the anti-light rail brigade aren’t doing their part to contribute to the transit discourse now that they’ve been given what they’ve been saying they wanted for all these years is…let’s just say “precious” and leave it at that. He doesn’t say what part of the Internet he was strolling through when he happened across this unworthy commentary – I bet I could make some pretty good guesses – nor does he quote any specifics from it, so that’s about all we can say. Be that as it may, I appreciate the effort. It’s a big and important deal, and the more people we have taking it seriously, the better.