Saturday, October 06, 2018

Houston firefighters, mayor will debate Prop 2 today

There's a handful of events happening today for you Harris County Democrats needing to boost the voter rolls in this last weekend before the deadline.  For those of you less interested in that, Sema Hernandez will be speaking at Our Revolution's meeting in the Montrose this afternoon.  She is John Cornyn's first announced challenger for 2020.

I'll be paying attention to the debate between Marty Lancton and Sylvester Turner.  It nearly didn't happen because Lillie Schechter was apparently trying to game the rules in favor of the mayor, but after some last-minute negotiations, it's back on.

Houston's firefighters union on Wednesday withdrew and then reinstated its participation in a Saturday debate with Mayor Sylvester Turner on the "pay parity" referendum that goes before voters in November, amid concerns that the event's host, the Harris County Democratic Party, may be giving the mayor too much control over the event.

The hour-long forum, which the party will live stream from St. John's United Methodist Church at 2019 Crawford beginning at 10 a.m., will mark the first time the mayor and the union address the contentious issue on the same stage.

So what was the disagreement all about?

Among the union's initial complaints were that Houston Chronicle opinion editor Lisa Falkenberg was to serve as moderator (the editorial board expressed opposition to the parity proposal in July 2017, though Falkenberg noted her tenure began 11 months after that), and that Democratic Party officials did not agree to let Lancton address precinct chairs or let them vote on whether to endorse the proposition.

County Democratic Party Chair Lillie Schechter had said she respected the union's initial decision to withdraw despite "extensive conversations" about the format of the discussion, noting that the gathering never was envisioned as ending in a vote; such tallies only occur at quarterly gatherings of all precinct chairs, she said, the last of which was held Sept. 13.

"I applaud the HPFFA for its steadfast representation of firefighters and am glad we were able to clarify things sufficiently to regain their participation Saturday," she said. "We look forward to an informative session that will educate voters on this important November issue."

More on that from HPM.  I've blogged twice about the referendum, most recently here (link to the first post within).  So I'll just expand once more on the dynamics.

Mayor Turner has toured the city and, as expected, been hard at work bad-mouthing the firefighters and doom-and-glooming.  His PR flack, Sue Davis, together with press secretary Mary Benton, have been responsible for the online pushback against the firefighters and for the proposal.  Benton's had a rough time of it; here's a Tweet thread where Davis and Groogan at Fox got into the weeds; she had to throw in the towel.

The math just hasn't been working for the city no matter whose numbers they use.

The (October 2) announcement comes the same day City Controller Chris Brown presented his cost analysis of the ballot measure, estimating the measure would cost $85 million a year. His estimation is $13 million lower than city finance's estimate of $98 million but doesn't include all the extra pay incentives and other special pay some firefighters receive.

All this whining about holes being blown in city budgets did not stop Mayor Turner and City Council from approving a pay increase for police officers this week.

Neither figure (previous excerpt) includes the additional cost that would be added to the fire budget with the 7 percent raises the city council agreed to give police officers in a new two-year contract approved Wednesday. The agreement means police will have received raises totaling 37 percent since 2011, while firefighters have received just a 3 percent raise.

That's called a 'fuck you, firefighters', in case you were wondering.

Now as I have mentioned previously, the conservatives in town are just happy to own the libs on council for having kicked this can down the road to 2019, and hope to sweep themselves into City Hall as a result.  The establishment, centrist, neoliberal Democrats like Turner and mayor pro tem Ellen Cohen and the rest of their cowardly ilk don't give a shit about the city budget any more than than they care about the working men and women who have served the city all these years under a compensation inequality so severe that it boggles the mind.  They're just trying to save their hides from electoral wipeout in 2019.  If they break the union in the process, too bad.

This situation is not unique to Houston.  San Antonio is fighting a similar battle; so is Chicago.

Democrats can brag all they want about having political control of the major municipalities throughout the United States, but what good is it doing anybody if they govern like Republicans?  Like Republican businessmen and women?

Absent a viable, progressive third party option -- even in non-partisan elections -- we are in desperate need of some better Democrats in this country (Joe Manchin), in this state (Texas Democrats) and in this town.  If the Donkeys currently in charge down on Bagby lose their majority next year, are they going to be blaming the Democratic Socialists instead of the Green Party for that?

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