Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Renew Houston meets the Harris County Dems

Publisher's note: Renew Houston's petition drive -- previous coverage found here -- was successful and they will appear on November's ballot. Today, Councilmember Stephen Costello attended and presented at the Harris County Democratic Party's Brown Bag Luncheon. Open Source Dem was in attendance.


I attended the rather bizarre meeting at party HQ today. Evidently, Gerry Birnberg seems to be promoting Renew Houston, even though it will (a) bring out Republican voters and (b) demoralize and confuse Democratic voters this fall.

I am just flabbergasted by that. But Martha Cottingham also announced that the “Breakthrough Breakfast” has been cancelled. Frankly, it looks like the vaunted “coordinated campaign” is flying apart. Obviously Matt Angle has hijacked and cut himself in on the large donors. This will be another banner year for the pimp-consultants, but is not looking good for the Democratic ticket.

There is no telling what Sue Lovell will do. She did not appear as announced. Well good, we did not waste time on her.

Costello was arrogant and dismissive. I found nothing to like about his presentation style. But those are tangential matters compared with the scheme he outlined.

Evidently there is a lot to it. He was rattling off bond-lawyer jargon and financial modeling that has, evidently, been vetted by the City but none of which is available to the public. Costello blabbered about transparency but revealed nothing about Renew Houston. They are keeping the details of this scheme proprietary or privileged or something. He denied bond lawyer involvement, but this reeks of it.

I agreed with him that drainage and transportation infrastructure are and ought to be the city’s, not the county’s, primary concern. That is a fundamental matter that few voters understand: to the GOP, there is just some big, amorphous thing called “government” they claim to hate but actually expand and fight like dogs to control. Most Democrats on Council seem to defer to the GOP on public health, public safety, public works, and above all public finance, but handle anything involving cute puppies with exquisite tenderness.

In this case, Costello gave various rationales for putting a measure on the November ballot but dodged my question on the actual effect of it. That would be allowing the special purpose entity he proposes to set up to issue “double-barrel bonds” (a) that are issued as revenue bonds (without an election) but (b) that become tax bonds in an event of default.

I see no reason this dedicated enterprise fund would not turn into the sort of monster the Airport has become. But, Costello –- from New Jersey –- was clear enough that if he gets this done while on Council he plans to get off Council and run the thing. Well yeah, a Jonathan Day move from a District Council seat, that’s pretty ambitious. It sort of compares with Sue’s dreams of future employment.

I have no objection to a dedicated enterprise fund, but I do have reservations about enterprises that a majority of City Council cannot manage, and there are already a slew of those. The central disagreement I have with Costello, with the GOP, and with the Vichy and Blue Dog Democrats propping them up (and running down the President and the Mayor) is the idea –- Costello made his position clear –- that an elected black Mayor or President is not legitimate and must not be able to act without the permission of a GOP minority.

Well, if a proficient and disciplined Democratic majority on City Council cannot manage this city responsibly, then I cannot imagine why people will turn out to turn county government over to us.

Renew Houston is flim-flam. It is opaque and anti-Democratic -- just another case of moving the goal posts every time Democrats achieve a majority.

So maybe Democrats will mobilize against this. We will surely lose the fall election unless we mobilize over something. The GOP is energized and we are being demoralized by mixed messages from hustlers like Matt Angle and the antics of self-serving office squatters like Sue Lovell. What is she running for? City Secretary?

It will be interesting to see what they do with Renew Houston over at “Radio-Active”. They fancy themselves strategic thinkers. They are not, but compared to cringing liberals and goo-goo moderates, I guess they are.

Update: Related reading suggested by OSD...

Salon's Michael Lind: Can infrastructure-led growth save the economy?

The New Republic: James Galbraith focuses on public finance and control fraud in Tremble, Banks, Tremble

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