With the election of Annise Parker as mayor of Houston, the fourth largest city in the United States signaled that they pay more attention to qualifications than to sexual orientation. This news reverberated around the globe and brought positive attention to the city of Houston and the state of Texas. National Democratic groups took note of a more progressive Houston than they assumed, and the talk and speculation turned to the possibilities of Texas turning blue sooner rather than later.
The Parker win was no accident. She put together a talented campaign team that ran on the strength of the grassroots rather than City Hall insiders. Key Houston-area progressive bloggers aligned themselves with Parker and were embraced by the campaign. Blogs became an effective messaging strategy, emphasizing Parker’s qualifications and her opponent’s weaknesses.
In the runoff, several third parties -- including one longtime right-wing operative who endorsed Parker's opponent -- launched a series of homophobic attacks against her, but they failed to do her any serious damage because voters recognized her distinguished service as a member of Council and City Controller and valued her experience and financial acumen.
Voters knew who she was and what she was about because she had always been open and honest about it, and that was more important than anything some agitator could say.
For her historic victory, for making the rest of the world re-evaluate its opinion of Texas, and for running a truly modern grassroots campaign, the Texas Progressive Alliance is proud to name Houston's Mayor-Elect Annise Parker its Texan of the Year for 2009.
“Gold Star Texans” for 2009
Ramey Ko: Ko is an attorney and activist in Austin. He should be best known for his work in Asian Americans for Obama, but Republican stupidity assured us he will be best known as "the guy who held his cool while on the receiving end of a massive dose of both ignorance and racism from Betty Brown." With extreme professionalism, he tried to help Brown understand why it would behoove her that voting rights for Asian Texans (and all Texans) not fall prey to bureaucratic errors creating name mismatches. Brown's ignorance/racism and Ko's cool reasonableness drew worldwide media attention. Watch the video of their exchange: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v9hdVUzMeDw
Calvin Tillman: Tillman is mayor of a tiny town at the epicenter of the Barnett Shale. Several industry giants seized DISH land and installed a several huge compressor stations and processing plants right next to neighborhoods. They built a crisscross of pipelines all through the town and on private property. He has taken a hard line with industry, crafting a strategy to get the most bang for his press releases.
Tillman and the DISH City Council spent 10% of their yearly budget for a private ambient air study. This is the first such study where the results were made public so that all citizens in the Barnett Shale area might benefit. The levels of toxins were amazingly high, and many DISH residents are seriously ill, but they are poor and do not have health insurance. Tillman worked with TDSHS and finally got them to agree to test DISH residents. This is the first time a state agency has tested residents for drilling toxins. Tillman travels to other areas and speaks about these issues. He has offered to speak and assist others and refuses any compensation for travel or time.
Tillman is largely responsible for TCEQ's revised policy in response to Barnett Shale air emissions. He is also a blogger.
State Rep. Elliott Naishtat and his Capitol staff: While he may not be a native Texan, the work that Naishtat has done for the state of Texas earns him a spot on the Texans of the Year List for 2009. Even with voter ID legislation putting a choke-hold on progress, Naishtat and his Capitol staff worked diligently to pass more legislation than any other member of the House during the 81st session. The Representative from Queens, who just completed his 10th session, has consistently proven himself to be an advocate for the sick and elderly, passing legislation that will create the Legislative Committee on Aging and ensuring Texas receives $15.2 million in Violence Against Women Act grants. We would be remiss in acknowledging Elliott Naishtat -- as he is always quick to remind people -- without also recognizing his longtime staffers (Dorothy Browne, Nancy Walker and Judy Dale) who work tirelessly behind the scenes to help make Texas a better, safer place to live.
Texas Watchdog: Texas Watchdog (http://www.texaswatchdog.org/) had a role in breaking stories in the just-completed Houston city elections. Though their work can at times be controversial, we welcome another online news organization to the Texas media landscape with our nomination of the group.
Hank Gilbert: For his continuing work to defeat infrastructure privatization schemes and working with Democrats and more than a few Republicans, Gilbert helped put a stop to CDA's this past session and handed Governor Perry and Commissioner Todd Staples a rare defeat.